Kathmandu, 15 April 2020 – As Nepal ramps up measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, residents in one rural area have been learning about the importance of handwashing and hygiene for the past year.

Concern has been growing in Gaurijang Rural Municipality in Nepal’s most eastern district Jhapa  particularly about COVID-19 being spread by migrant labourers returning home across the border from India just  five kilometres away. Officials are checking the health of those returning and instituting quarantine. But prevention measures area already well underway in the villages too.

Gauriganj Rural Municipality has been working with the  Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) and  UN-Habitat to improve sanitation and hygiene for nearly a year which means villagers are well informed already..  

“We had a challenge of making people understand about the importance of hygiene and sanitation, as they are poor and illiterate,” said Ram Chandra Mishra, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Focal Point for the Municipality. “But local NGOs supported by the Global Sanitation Fund such as the Birat Community Learning Centres helped introduce the idea of regular handwashing to the communities and this has proved a biggest tool in the fight against COVID-19.”

The Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) and UN-Habitat programme  supported 340 households in the deprived marginalized communities and each house how has a sink with soap for handwashing, a toilet and dustbin.

UN-Habitat and GSF also have the contact information of 1400 households in Jhapa which is being used to disseminate information and monitor their hygiene and sanitation.

Sunita Paswan, Chairperson of Suddhamvhitta Model Community Management Committee, said that the municipality’s poorest communities, who had constructed their own toilets, wanted buckets for hand washing.

“Some of those who had not taken it seriously earlier have started acting responsibly and have bought buckets and soap,” she said. “And the Global Sanitation Fund and other organizations provided them with taps to fix in their buckets which helps to keep the water inside clean.”

Earlier the rural municipality had installed 11 water basins including four in health posts for hand washing. After the news of COVID-19 spreading, the municipality put in a further 200 water tanks with taps and soap in public places such as markets, junctions, ward offices, banks and health posts. They are also using mobile vans to broadcast public health messages.

“We cannot even imagine what it would be like if we had to start from scratch promoting handwashing with the local communities at this critical period.  We are so relieved that has already been covered,” said Mr Mishra.