The Beacon Project: transforming lives through partnerships and supply chains

6 min read
Gauri, 15, a pupil at Sagarmatha Secondary School, Lahan, demonstrating handwashing to Andy Gibbons, Managing Director at Claret Engineering, 2018.
Image: WaterAid/ Nishant Gurung

Liz Rigby discusses the close connections WaterAid and Anglian Water are forming with a town in Nepal to expand access to clean water and decent toilets.

One in ten people in Nepal don’t have clean water close to home, and almost half of the population lives without a decent toilet. Combined with poor hygiene, this seriously affects daily life, causing diarrhoeal diseases that keep children out of school, prevent parents from earning a living, and hold whole communities back from reaching their potential.

The Beacon Project is a unique collaboration between Anglian Water, its Alliance (capital delivery) partners and WaterAid. The focus is to enhance existing water supplies in Lahan, a fast-growing town in south-eastern Nepal, Siraha District, extend piped services to those who do not have them and to work with key stakeholders to bring appropriate sanitation and waste management to the town.

Fewer than half of Lahan’s 98,000 people have access to piped water. Its water network consists of just one treatment works, five boreholes and around 59km of pipes, operated by 21 staff, only eight of whom work full-time. There are no adequate waste management systems.

Girl collecting unsafe water from the local pump. Ward No 2, Lahan
A girl collects unsafe water from the local pump in Lahan.
Image: WaterAid/Nishant Gurung

Sharing knowledge

Although the community clearly needs infrastructure improvements, the project aims to deliver more than better facilities. A key aim is for the Anglian Water team to share knowledge on water resource planning, expansion plans, finance and tariffs, and business planning with stakeholders and staff from utility operators and service providers in Lahan. Strengthening the service providers' capacity will help make improvements, and foster deep and lasting relationships with Anglian Water.

In November 2017 a project team visited to meet local staff, make some relatively quick and easy improvements, gather data and map the network. Chris Dilley, Water Resources Specialist at Anglian Water, helped deliver borehole management training working with WaterAid Nepal and their local partners.

"We worked closely with local technicians to provide safe alternatives for drilling boreholes, showed them how to fix leaks and monitor ground water levels – all of which will make a big difference to the raw water quality," he said.

"Rather than trying to implement huge technological changes that would be unmanageable, we knew it was important to adapt our expertise so the local technicians could manage the assets after we left."

This March the team visited Lahan again and also hosted senior executives from each Alliance partner to build on progress already made.

The project team is building relationships with the local authorities and working together with them to make improvements that will bring immediate benefits to the community. The project will include empowering communities to understand their human rights to clean water and decent toilets, and to understand the benefits that having them will bring. The team have also shaped plans to work alongside the Nepali Government and local water suppliers.

Emotional support

This is the first time WaterAid has collaborated so closely with a UK partner on a whole programme package making a vital difference to communities.

Regarding benefits for the company, the Beacon Project is about partners having an emotional connection to the project while also recognising the learning and development opportunities for staff.

During the visit this year, the team met community and school groups, seeing first-hand the value and capacity they were adding. They saw the challenges but also solutions, and found it an inspiring experience.

Richard Boucher, Group Strategy and Risk Director, said, "The places we visited, the communities we met, the children we engaged with all helped in developing an emotional attachment that will last a lifetime. Everyone bought in. The goals we set, the intention to commit resources, the development opportunities for staff – it’s all absolutely on the table."

A unique alliance model

"Anglian Water is able to do this because of our alliancing model. We can get long-term commitments to do things that, if you were simply tendering for each piece of work, you couldn’t contemplate," said Boucher.

The project offers a unique opportunity for Anglian Water and its partners to be right at the heart of the communities we support.

Caroline Wakelin, WaterAid's Senior Water Industry Partnership Manager, said, "This is not only a unique partnership for WaterAid and Anglian Water, it's also the first time we’ve developed a collaborative partnership with a water company, their supply chain and government bodies to deliver a municipality-wide approach to the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene. It’s already making a vital difference to communities.

"It’s our goal to share our knowledge and experience of the UK water industry so we can add value, enhance capacity and enable Nepal’s systems to be more sustainable across the country."

A complex challenge

"This is not about fixing leakage or increasing available resources; it’s the whole package, not just dealing with the symptoms," said Programme Manager Mark Pickering. For the initiative to succeed, the team will have to work closely with the local stakeholders and utility operator to create a plan that’s acceptable to them, and the individual communities.

"Our challenge is to put together a plan that’s acceptable to all, that we can afford through our ability to raise funds, that can be done in a set timeframe and then be transferred to other areas. We’ve set a five-year timeframe for Lahan and will use that to show how planning and goodwill can be magnified across Nepal," said Boucher.

A rewarding experience

Despite the challenges, those who have been to Lahan have found the experience inspiring.

"It was genuinely one of the most fulfilling weeks in my working life," said Robin Price, Anglian Water’s Interim Director, Water Resources East. "I feel that I was able to make a huge difference in a short period of time, which was really very rewarding. I feel part of a team that includes the local utility, WaterAid, Anglian Water and the alliances."

Two representatives from WaterAid Nepal have also been on an exchange visit to Anglian Water.

Next steps

Over the next five years the group will continue to plan and deliver improved and expanded water networks and appropriate faecal sludge management services, giving some of Nepal’s poorest communities access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

"The Beacon Project is a truly collaborative partnership bringing together diverse actors committed to delivering clean water, decent sanitation and hygiene to the unreached people of Lahan," said WaterAid Nepal’s Country Director Tripti Rai. "What inspires and excites us is the opportunity to contribute to people’s empowerment and enable them to access WASH services, while working with key service providers to upgrade their skills and systems, enhancing quality overall. We hope it will set pace to modelling an effective and inclusive municipal-wide utility model in Lahan."

This blog was amended 19 June 2018 to correctly attribute quotes to Richard Boucher, and amend Robin Price's job title.