Treating Wastewater for the Good of the Nation

January 24 | Kathmandu

Globally, almost 70% waste water, from households and factories, is discharged directly to natural water resources or used by the people without being properly treated. The release of such polluted water to the environment, not only increases infections and diseases, but also increases antimicrobial resistance – where pathogens in the environment can become resistant to antibiotics as water bodies are also being polluted with antibiotic residues.

This is also becoming a great threat to public health in Nepal.

What is an effluent?

To protect environment and public health from exposure of toxic pollutants, stakeholders in Nepal are suggesting that wastewater discharged to be treated at a certain level of standard in treatment plants.

“This standard will not only protect the well-known rich water resources of Nepal, but preserve the aquatic ecology, enhance reusing and recycling of treated wastewater for other usage such as irrigation and soil conditioning (with fertilizers), and flourish the tourism industry”, states Dr. Md Khurshid Alam Hyder, Public Health Administrator, at World Health Organization, Country Office for Nepal (WCO Nepal). He also added, the historical and religious importance of the Holy Rivers, Bagmati and Bishnumati, needs to be clean.

The good news is that a technical working group (TWG) has been formed under the leadership of the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management (DWSSM) including important stakeholders like the Ministry of Forests and Environment, Ministry of Water Supply, Nepal Bureau of Standards and Metrology, academia, local bodies, and UN organizations, to advise on effluent standards - standards to which wastewater must be treated to maintain acceptable quality – for Nepal. WCO Nepal and UN Habitat were the major supporting partners for the entire process.

The working group members in action to advise on effluent standards - standards to which wastewater must be treated to maintain acceptable quality – for Nepal.

“These domestic wastewater standards, when implemented and enforced, will be a milestone to protect the water environment and indirectly to achieve safe drinking water and achieve our targets of Sustainable Development Goals” states Dr. Sudan Panthi, National Professional Office, Environment Unit, WCO Nepal.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 states that access to safe water and sanitation, and sound management of freshwater ecosystems, are essential to human health, environmental sustainability, and economic prosperity. SDG Target 6.3 specifically states that by 2030, every country should improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials - halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and increasing recycling and safe reuse.

It has been a slow process. “It took almost 150 years for some countries to set such standards, with a lot of trial and error, false starts, and dead ends”, states Rajendra Bhattarai, WEF Fellow America-Nepal Clean Water Foundation at a TWG meeting, with 60 stakeholders representing all levels of government and various organizations, held on January 24.

“We must move now to provide clean water to the people”, states Mr. Gajendra Kumar Thakur, Secretary, Ministry of Water Supply.

Now, Nepal with political and public support can move ahead with examples from the best, while providing more encouragement towards national research and innovation.

Any new standards will need to include many, important parameters such as which pollutants to remove, and which useful by-products to be utilized for good use.

In a recent meeting held on January 24, the TWG evaluated the existing treatment technologies to decide what is practicable and sustainable for Nepal, given local laws and regulations, examples from other countries, and relevant WHO guidelines.

Additionally, the TWG discussed the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, emphasizing the advantage of a public-private partnership, ownership by the local government and communities, and stringent monitoring by DoE.

The proposed standard on effluents will be presented to the Government of Nepal for approval. “Newton stated that unless there is an external force, a thing will not move”, stated Mr. Gajendra Kumar Thakur, Secretary at Ministry of Water Supply addressing the TWG meeting in his opening remark, “Money is not an issue to connect all houses with such a system all the time. We have the money, and we have new partnerships, even with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This is the push, and we must move.”