Interview of the Former Secretary of the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of Nepal

Mr Thapa is the former secretary of the Government of Nepal.  He has retired recently after completing 32 years of public service. He has served as the Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources. Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation and also as the secretary of Ministry of Education and Urban Development. His experience spans the sectors of tourism, water resources and urban development. He has keen interest in city planning, eco-tourism, integrated water resource management including drinking water and sanitation.  He has led the sanitation movement in the rural areas of Nepal with the goal to achieve the target of water and sanitation for all by the year 2017. He is one of the leaders of Bagmati Cleaning Campaign which is a joint campaign of the government and the civil society for cleaning the holy Bagmati river which passes through the capital city of Kathmandu. Currently he has been appointed as the Chairman of High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of Bagmati Civilization ( HPCIDBC) which operates the only sewage treatment plant in the country. He has also conducted courses on Housing in the Institute of Engineering for the students of MSc. in Urban Planning in the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning. Following is an interview given by Mr. Thapa for the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub: The interview is bifurcated into two sections – the first section expresses his expectations from the knowledge hub and the second one on sanitation in Nepal. On the K-Hub:
  1. The K-Hub initiative has been established with India as the national center in addition to being regional coordinator of the initiative. Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are national centers in South Asia with  a common view of strengthening partnership and sharing knowledge related to urban development. How do you feel about this initiative? What are your expectations from K-Hub?
I am very proud that, we have nominated Institute of Engineering (IOE) as the National Center for the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub in Nepal. I hope K-Hub will be able to address important issues related to urban development in the South Asia region and contribute towards knowledge on related fields to the region. The concept of bringing in multiple national level institutions under a common platform definitely strengthens the capacity and knowledge regarding urban development not only for Nepal but also for the South Asian region.
  1. As a national center IOE will lead the K-Hub activities in Nepal?. What is your expectation from IOE in addressing these critical issues in urban development?
  I am aware of the capacity of IOE as I have been a guest lecturer in IOE. It is a institute that has a lot of Knowledge on urban development in Nepal. This knowledge is a result of outputs of rigorous research that has not been utilized in a proper way. The Government does not have sufficient time for research activity and in many cases it is not easy to take decisions without sufficient knowledge. To make informed decisions, knowledge is a key necessity which this Knowledge Hub endeavors to fulfill. I am confident about IOE’s capabilities to lead the K-Hub activities in Nepal.
  1. What is your personal opinion about objectives taken by the Urban Knowledge Hub of Nepal? Are you happy that the K-Hub has chosen sanitation, Fecal Sludge Management (FSM) and the land as its focus areas?
Urban sanitation is one of the crucial problems faced by the Government of Nepal and its urban citizens. Thus the topic chosen by the K-Hub Nepal is appropriate and I hope the K-Hub will able to draw attention to some solutions. The other important sector that requires immediate investigation is that of urban land development. Land is the basic component for any urban improvement and is scarce in Nepal. The Nepalese constitution has accorded property right to land owners. Although, we have several acts and policies on land, it is very difficult to manage. In urban areas, parcels of private land exists in various dimensions and shapes. Thus it is very difficult to assemble land for decent housing complexes. Government is implementing several land management tools for urban development and land pooling is one of the successful tools for robust urban housing expansion. Since 1970s, land pooling projects have been implemented by the National Government in different towns of Nepal but only some projects are successful. This research is well timed to recognize the pros and cons of land pooling projects implemented in Nepal in order to improve the process for future urban development of the country. The second part of the interview presents below Mr. Thapa’s views on sanitation in Nepal.
  1. What is the status of sanitation, in rural as well as urban areas of Nepal?
As per the Census 2011, 64 percent of the total population has access to safe sanitation practices. The problem of open defecation is acute in some of the Terai districts and backward regions of the country.
  1. Do we have policies and guidelines in Fecal Sludge Management (FSM) and sludge treatment plant in Nepal?
There is no concrete policy and guidelines on FSM and sludge treatment plants in Nepal but as per the Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Policy, sludge from the septic tanks and sewage treatment plants have to be properly managed to mitigate environmental problems to the community. As I already mentioned there is no specific policy on that issue, although there is an urgent need for it in the urban areas of Nepal.
  1. Is there any provision of including gender and differently-abled sensitivity in toilet design and construction?
There are some efforts to design toilet for differently abled but these are limited to some government and public buildings only. Most architects and engineers are not aware of such requirements. The Government has recently approved guidelines to address this issue.
  1. Do you have any idea about the number of toilets per person? What is the existing toilet per person number in government offices? According to guidelines, what are the standards of toilets per person?
It varies from one office to the other.At the central Government offices the ratio is adequate. However, at the district and village level, some government offices may not have toilets that function properly. Normally, there should be at least one urinal for every nine persons and one WC for every 20 persons. I have been instrumental in initiating such norms and standards from the Ministry of Urban Development.
  1. What are the problems in toilet operation and maintenance?
Lack of water and regular maintenance are the major problems in toilet operation and maintenance.
  1. What type of toilets will befeasible in offices?
Offices should have simple, easy to maintain, and water efficient toilets. The practice of attached toilets for VIPs should be abolished.
  1. How many sludge treatment plants are there in Nepal?
I am aware of only one such plant that is located at Guheshwari in Kathmandu that functions properly. Kathmandu Valley had three treatment plants – the one in Bhaktapur is not functioning and another one is in Chovar. The treatment plant in Chovar is also not functioning well.
  1. What are the probable problems faced in Fecal Sludge Management (FSM)?
Lack of trained manpower and equipments are some of the major problems in FSM.
  1. Is the FSM sludge acceptable for use as fertilizer? What about the related social obligations?
I think so. If managed properly it can help substitute the import of chemical fertilizers to a certain extent.
  1. What type of awareness program has to be launched in the FSM?
First of all, people should know what sludge is and why it should be treated. Many people are not aware of the hazards of untreated sludge. Next, they should be taught how it can be managed at household and community level.
  1. What type of sludge treatment plant will be preferred by a locality at the level of community / government /private?
Small sludge treatment plant that can be managed by a community will be appropriate for Nepal. It should be less mechanized and energy efficient.
  1. Are industries of Nepal using treatment plants for their fecal sludge?
I think very few of them are functional treatment plants.
  1. What type of policies have been developed for hospital waste management in Nepal?
The Government has recently launched guidelines for hospital waste management which is mandatory for all government and private hospitals and nursing homes. All the health institutions are responsible for managing their waste according to the Solid Waste Management Act .
  1. What type of policies have been developed in this sector by the National Government?
There are policies but institutions lack capacity to follow them. There is a need to build capacity.
  1. Could you please make any suggestions on FSM?
It is an issues that our technocrats and policy makers are not well acquainted with. It is high time that we start discussing it with them.  
  1. Could you please brief, what is the national target on sanitation?
The Government has set the target of water and sanitation for all Nepali people by the year 2017. Though is an ambitious target, I am certain that it is achievable. All the stakeholders should come together and contribute so that this target  is achieved.
  1. In the end, would you like to add a thought about the Knowledge Hub?
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to express my opinion on the K-Hub. I would like to wish all best to this initiative and wish it success in its endeavour. I believe that this is the beginning to an end. I would urge you to please work hard to bring together knowledge on the urban development for all of us working to improve this sector.