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What is stalling the BAP? Print E-mail
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Monday, 23 January 2012
By: Smriti Mallapaty

In sewage management, as in other things, decentralization is a matter of debate. And lack of progress on the Bagmati Action Plan (BAP) reflects discrepant views on the matter among invested parties. The government launched the BAP last September in an effort to “restore and conserve the Bagmati River and its tributaries”, through “an integrated and coordinated approach”.
Successful implementation of the plan would “bring the river back to life” within a five year period from 2009 to 2014. Included in the BAP’s remit is a comprehensive strategy for managing wastewater in the Kathmandu Valley. “We had lots of debate about what kind of treatment system should be included,” informs Sangeeta Singh, director of the engineering consulting company Astra Development Network, who was part of the team that launched the BAP. Eventually, a combination of centralized and decentralized systems was deemed most appropriate. The plan recommends conventional centralized treatment for the urban city core, and decentralized wastewater treatment systems (DEWATS), for zones 2 and 3—the rural and peri-urban zones, respectively—where larger expanses of land could accommodate the system. The BAP prioritizes on-site sanitation, where waste is collected and treated on site like in compost toilets, for the upstream natural conservation and downstream zones.


Proponents of DEWATS insist on the many advantages of its application. Treatment systems—centralised and decentralised—discharge treated wastewater into the river, but Singh points out that installing several plants at intervals along the riverbank would allow for diffused recharge of the river from multiple entry points. There would be less scope for recharge if, comparatively, one were to take all the wastewater to one central location.
For Bhushan Tuladhar, regional technical advisor for South Asia at UN-HABITAT and another member of the BAP team, the key benefit of DEWATS is the reduced infrastructure required to transport wastewater. “70 percent of the management cost is taken up by transport,” he says, emphasising that investment in decentralised systems would result in overall savings in time and resources.
There are also contextual justifications, according to Siddhartha Bajracharya, executive officer at the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC), the organisation that developed the BAP document. For Bajracharya, decentralised management is more a matter of expediency than efficiency. “If we build more, even if half of them don’t work, at least some of them will, whereas if we build two or three centralised plants, if one does not work it is a big deal.”
Decentralisation would also allow for alternative management regimes, for example by transferring operation and maintenance responsibility away from central structures to communities. Despite its merits, progress in implementing DEWATS through the BAP has been slow. As of yet, only one design for a wastewater treatment plant in Sankhamul has been submitted by ENPHO, with no actual construction, and a demonstration system is being tested at Guheswhori sewage treatment plant. The still in the waters reflects a rift in opinion between decentralised and centralised stakeholders of the BAP in general, and of wastewater management in particular.

Clogged efforts

Although the BAP was developed by the NTNC, with contributions from various experts and organisations, ultimate responsibility for executing and monitoring the plan was given to the High Powered Committee for Bagmati Civilization Integrated Development (HPCIDBC), which overlooks centralised wastewater treatment systems in the urban zone.
Bajracharya believes that even though the plan was endorsed by the government, the HPCIDBC has not wholeheartedly accepted DEWATS as a noteworthy solution. Even if they agree in principle with recommendations, they continue to insist that what is needed is “a drain to divert the wastewater from domestic households”, and other similar solutions that would cost big money. Bajracharya attributes the government team’s tunnel-vision to their engineering background, which prevents them from learning to integrate technical, social, cultural and ecological solutions.
When questioned, however, Mahesh Basnet, chairman of the HPCIDBC, agrees that decentralised treatment is suitable for parts of the city, but believes that more technical investigation is necessary to decipher what kind of decentralised system would serve the city best overall.
ENPHO’s design for a DEWATS in Sankhamul uses tall, thin reeds to naturally remove pollutants and treat the wastewater. The reeds look like corn-bamboo hybrids, and are grown on rectangular ‘beds’ of sand and gravel—a system commonly referred to as constructed wetlands. But Basnet argues that reed beds would not work in Nepal because “we have minimal land.”
Meanwhile, the HPCIDBC is exploring alternative decentralised treatment technologies, Basnet says. The Japan Water Agency is currently trialling a decentralised sanitation and reuse system using the slanted soil chamber method. Although still experimental, the design of stacked, slanted chambers filled with soil and stone allows grey water to infiltrate from one chamber to the next by depending on gravity rather than energy. “If that is successful we will upgrade it.”
Basnet also emphasises that the BAP should not be thought of as an autonomous document. A technical master plan with detailed engineering designs is still necessary. Such a master plan is currently being drafted, and sources of funds to support it are being probed. So if undissolved attitudes towards centralisation and decentralisation have clogged movement on the BAP’s DEWATS projects, it can only be expected that the debate will overflow into any new plans. Hopefully the plumbing is more conducive to coordinated action the next time round.

Mallapaty is a freelance environmental journalist based in Kathmandu

Source: The Kathmandu Post, January 21, 2012
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 January 2012 )
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