Nepal – Sanitation

Healthabitat started work in Nepal in 2007. We were asked by a small village of 600 people to go in and make toilets where none existed. Health was poor. We went in with no grand plan, no grand promises of a great program, just the offer to build two toilets for two families.
Now Healthabitat has worked in several neighbouring villages as well as schools improving sanitation and removing waste safely.

Project Background Sanitation and toilet work since 2007


HLPs Targetted

Healthabitat’s work in Nepal targets Safety, HLP1, HLP3, HLP4 and HLP6.

With every project, Healthabitat are looking to maximize their health impact. The 9HLP’s allow design to focus on what possible health impact a project can have. The health research that underpins the 9 HLP’s tells us that a toilet is not as effective as improving health unless there is hand washing available. This then becomes a critical part of the toilet design.

Learn More

A Real Example: A rural community south east of Kathmandu

1. Respiratory illness from smoke inhalation through burning green timber.

2. Human waste contaminating the surrounding area and inability to remove human waste safely.

3. A secure, well-built toilet, made by local trades with a place for hand washing and teeth cleaning. All supplied from a rainwater tank.

4. Human and animal waste is treated safely in a Biogas system, removing it from the ground.

5. Biogas provides 3-4 hours a day of smoke-less and free cooking gas.

6. Improved respiratory health, less deforestation for fuel.

7. Less shit on the ground, better gut health, less diarrhea especially in children, improved dental health. Fertiliser for crops.

Video - How does a septic tank work?

Human waste to crops

The nutrient-rich effluent produced through a septic treatment system is used on the fields to enhance the crops, and also provides some financial relief from having to buy expensive fertilisers.

The septic tank system works by:

  • collecting human waste through the toilet pan which is dip flushed using less than one litre of water
  • waste passes through the first chamber of the septic tank where solid waste is treated
  • only liquid passes through to the second chamber where further settlement of remaining solids occurs
  • nutrient-rich effluent is piped underground from the second chamber to the surrounding crops and is a valuable fertiliser.

Approximately every ten years the accumulated sludge from the first chamber needs to be removed, which also provides valuable additional fertiliser.

The animation above was developed to show construction teams and villagers in Nepal how a septic tank works. Less than a year after releasing the animation it had over 70,000 visits on YouTube.

How does Biogas work?
Human and buffalo waste to cooking gas

The families receiving a biogas system must have land near their house that is large enough for all the components of the system, and they must also have a buffalo – a large animal such as a buffalo is needed to generate enough waste for the biogas system to function effectively.

The key element in this system is the generation of methane gas through the breakdown of the waste, which is then used for cooking inside the house. Replacing wood fires with gas in indoor kitchens is a healthy and cheap alternative to the traditional use of cooking on smoky indoor fires which, combined with poor ventilation, causes ongoing respiratory and eye infections. Cutting trees for firewood destabilizes the steep terraced hillsides characteristic of Nepal’s valleys, where landslides are an ever-present threat, particularly in the wet season. Tree roots are also useful to help filter and improve groundwater.

The process works by:

  • collecting buffalo waste which is mixed with a small volume of water
  • combining this with human toilet waste in the biogas digester
  • through the waste breakdown, methane gas collects in the biogas digester dome
  • gas is collected from the top of the dome-shaped digester under natural pressure
  • connecting pipes from the digester directly to the house provide gas to a single gas burner in the kitchen
  • finally, the solid waste exits the digester to be used as fertilizer on crops




Meet the Team Every project has a strong local team

Video - Bishnu as he gives an overview of the Nepal sanitation program
Video - Plumbers are health workers too!

A Story Building Poverty

Surya Lama - Local Plumber

In Nepal, HH and our partners CHDS are constantly tripping over examples of non- government organisation solutions that favour the low initial capital cost toilet.

One example is the ‘$300 toilet’. It has an observed life of between zero and six months. How can the life of the toilet be zero? Given limited materials (1 x Asian style toilet pan, 5 cement rings, 2 bags of cement and 2 sheets of roofing iron or tiles) and instructions for making a toilet, the family must show initiative by finding the other materials required (for walling, roof structure and a privacy door) and provide the labour and skill to complete the toilet. Given that after the materials are handed out there is no further technical advice of support it is not surprising that only a few toilets are completed.

If completed, the toilet is a pit in the ground with no effective wastewater treatment. Within months, any absorption through the soil clogs, the pit fills and overflows. There will be no maintenance available and the toilet will be abandoned. There is no follow up inspection by the donor agency to assess toilet function or adequacy.


Learn More

Design Solutions Examples of Key Design Initiatives

Surya Lama - Local Plumber
A sketch by Paul Pholeros of the toilet design. Note: the door swings out for extra indoor space, ventilation, fly mesh to reduce flies spreading disease, raised floor to reduce water and dirt from entering toilet and septic tank and hard render inside to aid easy cleaning.

The Toilet design is robust and detailed for the local conditions, skills and materials, it includes:

  • locally made and sourced building materials, fixings, fittings and products
  • secure roof fixing: in villages, roofs are often held down by the weight of rocks, as they are cheap and available; the toilet building design uses screws for more effective fixing of the roof and less likelihood of polluting the water collected off the roof
  • generous roof overhangs to keep the entry dry during the wet season and maximise rainwater collection
  • an Asian style pan with dip flush toilet; dip flushing is a manual flushing technique using water from the internal tap provided to flush away the human waste.
  • the toilet pan is installed level with the concrete slab surface to make cleaning easier
  • a locally sourced polyethylene rainwater tank which stores 500 litres of water; the tank supplements the often inadequate village water supply, provides water for dip flushing the toilet pan, cleaning the floor, and for hand washing using the external tap
  • locally sourced timber roof battens set into brickwork to close the gap between the ceiling and wall preventing dust build-up and insect access
  • small windows of mosquito mesh above the door frame and opposite wall to provide cross-flow ventilation and protection from insects, whilst maintaining privacy and cooling the space
  • external lock on the door to keep the toilet secure and enable it to be well maintained by the owners
  • locally made stone pavers laid on the ground to prevent mud being carried into the toilet by the user, particularly in the wet season
  • a clothes hook to enable the toilet to be used for changing clothes and hanging towels
  • a brush for cleaning the toilet.

Nepal Toilet Design Guide

Available to view and purchase to support ongoing maintenance of school toilets.

Read more!

News Stay up-to-date with HH...