Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Nepal

Water for Women partners with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and partners to accelerate progress in rural water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) access for 41,200* people living in the districts of Dailekh and Sarlahi, Nepal.

According to the Asian Disaster Risk Centre, Nepal is ranked the 4th most prone country to climate risks and 11th to earthquake risks.[1] As a high mountainous Himalayan country, Nepal is impacted disproportionately by climate change, which is having an adverse effect on poverty and inequalities experienced in the country.

Climate change predictions indicate that Nepal will experience increased temperature — with warming higher than the global average — and precipitation variability, leading to droughts, heatwaves, flooding, and formation of more glacial lakes, which increases the risk of glacial lake outburst floods.[2] 

Modelling suggests that the number of people affected annually by river flooding could more than double by 2030 due to climate change. At the same time, the economic impact of river flooding could triple.[3]

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2003[4] analysis of water resources and hydropower, agricultural communities will be most affected by varying water availability but have the least adaptive capacity due to poverty and disempowerment. Small-scale, subsistence agriculture is a mainstay of Nepal’s economy, accounting for more than half the country’s workforce in 2015.[5]

About 80% of Nepal’s 30 million[6] inhabitants live in rural areas. According to Nepal’s National Planning Commission, in 2018 an estimated 28.6% of the population experienced multidimensional poverty, with a clear divide between rural and urban areas — being 33% and 7% respectively.[7]

a human chain of people in Nepal are working together to protect a water source on a hillside

Community members make a collective effort towards water source protection in Dailekh (SNV Nepal)


Climate-related risks to water, sanitation and hygiene


Climate change is likely to jeopardise WASH developmental gains made to date and increase health risks due to exposure to floods, constrained and low-quality water supplies and water-borne illnesses.


A reversal of water supply service gains and linked health risks exposes rural communities, particularly women and people with disabilities,[8] to increased vulnerability. Lack of access to water as a result of and during climate-related events and crises elevates the risk of community conflict over limited water supplies.

Although access to water has increased, water quality remains a major challenge. Piped systems do not always achieve the desired outcomes, with these systems having the poorest service levels and producing inequalities in terms of water being supplied on premises.[9]


“Marginalised groups are always cornered out from basic WASH services. They are the ones which are severely affected by climate change impacts in WASH sector.”

Kamala Basnet, Education Coordinator, Chandranagar Rural Municipality (RM), Sarlahi


Nepal’s geographical diversity brings different challenges to WASH services. Research by SNV and the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures in 2022 identified location-specific impacts of climate change in the two project locations, including floods, drought, surface runoff and landslides.

In Dailekh, situated in the mid-hills mountain region, communities depend on gravity-fed water systems that draw from surface water sources and springs.

In Sarlahi, in the Terai or flatlands, communities rely on groundwater sourced from bores and wells, which increasingly need to be dug deeper to help mitigate the risk of E. coli (Escherichia coli) outbreaks, particularly following flooding, when the water table rises and is prone to contamination.

In both locations, water infrastructure is vulnerable to damage during weather extremes — floods in Sarlahi and landslides in Dailekh. During the dry season, both are also at risk of water scarcity, with spring and surface water declines and decreased water in the aquifer.

Accessing water during the monsoon is likely to become more challenging for communities in Dailekh, who already face difficulties reaching water sources when weather conditions are poor. This is particularly true for people with disabilities who rely on others to secure their water supply.

Water availability and accessibility is often poor in areas where people evacuate during disasters, and sanitation options are likely to be limited, creating additional stresses. Access to water for hygiene becomes more problematic, disproportionately affecting women, girls and people who menstruate, and posing additional community health and wellbeing risks. Increased community conflict due to competition over limited water supplies also exacerbates inequities for poor and lower-caste households, who are disallowed use of local water points.

Further, with limited alternative means of survival during floods and droughts, women and marginalised people are often forced to use contaminated water. Women are largely responsible for water supply service-related household activities, so face additional mental and physical stresses during floods and droughts. With changes or disruptions in source points, they may be required to walk further to collect water from alternative sources. Increases in women’s overall workload, including caring for sick family members due to poor water quality and contaminated water sources, lead to reduced rest, mobility, engagement in WASH committees and public life, and access to income-generating opportunities.  


A map of Nepal with regions of operation highlighted



The Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Nepal project aims to support adaptation and strengthen resilience within current area-wide rural water supply services in four RMs in Dailekh and Sarlahi.

Building on the successes and achievements of SNV’s Water for Women project, Beyond the Finish Line: Inclusive and sustainable rural water supply services in Nepal, completed in 2022, technical advisory services, mentoring and capacity building, evidence-based advocacy, strategic partnerships, a twin-track approach to gender, disability and social inclusion (GEDSI), and knowledge, learning and exchange are integrated in the program approach.


From 2023-2024, this project aims to deliver lasting impact through:

  • Strengthened decentralised WASH sector systems with greater emphasis on climate resilience, sustainability, GEDSI and safety managed WASH and water security
  • Increased equitable universal access to and use of sustainable, climate-resilient WASH services and adoption of hygiene practices, particularly for potentially disadvantaged groups 
  • Strengthened climate resilience and GEDSI in local bodies, CSOs, communities and households 
  • Strengthened use of new evidence, innovation, and practices in climate-resilient inclusive WASH services by subnational and national stakeholders, CSOs and international WASH and water sector actors.  
An elderly woman is crouched down preparing food

An elderly woman uses water as she prepares her food. To achieve SDG6 means leaving no one behind — Water for Women projects are ensuring everyone in the community has access to water, sanitation and hygiene (SNV Nepal)

View more photo updates from our work in Nepal.  

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This project is an extension of, Beyond the Finish Line: Inclusive and sustainable rural water supply services in Nepal, which was delivered from 2018-2022. 

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Unlocking critical WASH contributions to care and domestic work for a feminist-led COVID-19 economic recovery

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WASH-related climate challenges for this project

  • The intersection of geophysical vulnerabilities, the adaptive capacity of specific RMs and the GEDSI context bring both similar and varying WASH issues in the project locations of Dailekh and Sarlahi.
  • In both project locations, 40% of the rural water schemes operate at a sub-standard level, and only 11% of households use purification methods like boiling and filtration.[10]
  • Only 17% of households are able to practice handwashing with soap.[11]
  • In Sarlahi, more than 80% of handpumps used by households, schools, healthcare facilities and in public places deliver sub-standard levels of water, with the presence of E. coli and arsenic.[12]
  • Increased economic pressure to keep water points functional can have flow on impacts on households’ ability to invest in other water supply service outcomes such as soap and filters.
  • Water supply systems across the four project RMs function poorly due to maintenance underfunding, weak management systems, lack of systemic water quality testing and low adaptive capacity for climate resilience.


“Climate change is affecting health, sanitation and drinking water sector badly. Local government should also be responsible along with community efforts to address climate change impacts in WASH sector.”

Devendra Kumar Khadka, Planning Officer, Dungeshwor RM, Dailekh

Small but significant steps are gradually stripping away age-old taboos associated with menarche in rural areas of Nepal and improving menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) and gender equality for women and girls (SNV Nepal)




The Towards Climate-Resilient Inclusive WASH Services in Rural Nepal project aims to reach the following beneficiaries by the end of 2024:


Direct beneficiaries: 41,200*

  • women and girls: 21,000
  • men and boys: 20,200
  • people with a disability: 400

Indirect beneficiaries: 61,800*



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The Australian development assistance program is investing in Nepal to achieve these outcomes. Water for Women is proud to be partnering with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and partners Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney, IWMI International Water Management Institute and CBM Australia in Dailekh and Sarlahi, Nepal.

Feature photo: Mother Group members practicing hand washing with soap, in Sarlahi Nepal (SNV Nepal)

 *Project targets are based on partner Civil Society Organisations (CSO) baseline studies. Project targets are updated periodically in response to changes in context as appropriate. To see our latest progress towards targets, see our progress.

[1] R Dangal, Country Profile: Nepal, Asian Disaster Reduction Center, n.d., accessed May 2023.

[2] The World Bank Group, Climate Risk Country Profile: Nepal, World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank, 2021.

By the 2080s, Nepal is projected to warm by 1.2°C–4.2°C, under the highest emission scenario, RCP8.5, as compared to the baseline period 1986–2005.

[3] The World Bank Group, Climate Risk Country Profile: Nepal.

[4] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Development and Climate Change in Nepal: Focus on Resources and Hydropower, OECD, 2003.

[5] The World Bank Group, Climate Risk Country Profile: Nepal

[6] United Nations, Nepal: Total Population, n.d., United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs website, World Population Prospects 2022, accessed June 2023.

[7] The World Bank Group, Climate Risk Country Profile: Nepal

[8] P Stein et al., Climate change and the right to health of people with disabilities, The Lancet Global Health, 2 December 2021.

[9] According to the SNV Nepal endline project survey 2022.

[10] According to data obtained through SNV Nepal’s endline project survey in 2022.

[11] According to the SNV Nepal endline project survey 2022.

[12] According to the SNV Nepal endline project survey 2022.

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