Open-defecation-free Nepal: sanitation for health, dignity and development


On 30 September 2019, the Government of Nepal is hosting a national celebration to mark an important sanitation milestone. That is – nationwide – open defecation is no longer tolerated in the country. Nepal is showing the world that with a united front and unified mission, every household can have access to a toilet.

Although the journey to an open-defecation-free Nepal was rife with challenges, the Government of Nepal’s success – through its leadership, strong political commitment and complemented by community ownership – is raising the sanitation bar for systems change.

In 2009, a cholera epidemic caused a public health disaster in the western part of Nepal. This served as a wakeup call for the national government to prioritise sanitation and hygiene in the national development agenda. For WASH sector stakeholders, it was time to acknowledge that heavy subsidies for sanitation had not led to any meaningful increase in access. At that time, Nepal had approximately 40% access to sanitation, with wide urban-rural, inter-regional and eco-zone disparities.

Meanwhile, in the then Mid-Western Region, political leaders, government agencies, and development actors were mobilised to respond to the crisis. Together, the multi-sector and multi-level collective signed a joint commitment in 2010, to move sanitation priorities forward, following a basic set of implementation principles. Such a 'Sanitation Conference' was to become an effective tool in the subsequent years to build momentum for a government-led, politically supported, social movement across the country; at village, district, region/ province, and national levels.  

Fuelling the movement, the national government developed the National Sanitation and Hygiene Master Plan. Endorsed in 2011, the plan was based on widespread stakeholder consensus on minimum criteria and coordination mechanisms.

  • It was agreed to adopt a no-subsidy arrangement as the basic principle for sanitation implementation.
  • Provisions were made for locally developed support mechanisms for the most vulnerable groups. 
  • Toilet structures had to be permanent till the plinth level, to avoid the burden of re-investments for households.
  • The lowest unit of open-defecation-free (ODF) declaration was placed at VDC level (later restructured into Wards [1]).


Sanitation demand creation

Toilet construction by masons and community members ongoing

Government-led, multi-stakeholder WASH coordination committees established at national, sub-national, and local levels, involving representatives from across sectors and political and development actors, supported the processes for planning and budgeting, coordination, sharing, adaptive learning, and transparent monitoring and ODF verification. Critically, at local levels, these coordination committees became platforms to mobilise all, for sanitation – local leaders, champions, civil society (including NGOs, journalists, media, women’s groups, people with disabilities, school groups, cooperatives, religious institutions, etc.), private sector actors, police and other security forces, administrators and other government personnel. 

Sanitation behavioural change communication [BCC] activities in schools

Handwashing with soap campaign and BCC

Resting on effective principles and implemented through joint government, donor, and households’ investments, the strong foundations built by the campaign was successful in overcoming many setbacks: the 2015 earthquake, 2017 and 2019 terai flooding, post-constitution political strikes, and country-wide restructuring from a unitary government to a federal system.


As a result, Nepal has been able to successfully complete its decade-long ODF campaign. SNV Netherlands Development Organisation congratulates the government and people of Nepal on this tremendous achievement!

Beyond open defecation Nepal makes a start in promoting higher sanitation levels

Along with its international and local partners in Nepal, SNV [2] reaffirms its commitment in supporting the Government of Nepal’s mission to sustain this progress, address a wider scope of hygiene behaviours, and ensure sustainable sanitation services for all people at all times, under its total sanitation manifesto.


[1] Following the roll out of the federal system of governance in 2017, the (earlier) Village Development Committees (VDCs) were restructured into one or more Wards, under the jurisdiction of an urban or rural municipality.
[2] Over the past ten years, SNV, through its rural sanitation approach, Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (SSH4A), has been an active partner of national and local government-led sanitation efforts. To celebrate this ten-year collaboration and mutual learning, in 2018, SNV produced a video documentation of the government's ongoing work to meet its SDG 6 targets.  

Photos: SNV/ Nico Hertweck of HUMA (2018)