Nepali Times
What Dhulikhel can teach Kathmandu


At a time when parts of Kathmandu haven't had water flowing out of the pipes for years, the people of Dhulikhel have what the capital's citizens can only dream of: 24-hour water supply from the mains.

Sixty-year-old Nanu Maya Shrestha is relaxed, she no longer has to wake up at the crack of dawn to wait with her gagro at the public tap. "We are lucky," says Nanu Maya recalling the days when Dhulikhel had no water and dysentry and typhoid were common. The water shortage drove many out of Dhulikhel, and some settled in nearby Banepa.

When Dhulikhel was made the district headquarter of Kabhre in 1962, the population soared and the water situation got worse. As the Panchayat government was not taking any initiative to improve the water supply system, Dhulikhelis took the matter into their own hands. In 1983, a group of volunteer engineers decided that diverting water from Khar Khola was the best option, but it was 14 km away and there was no money.

Things became much easier after Dhulikhel was declared a municipality and Bed Prasad Shrestha was elected mayor in 1987. The German aid group, GTZ stepped in with part of the money, and local businessmen put up the rest. A water user's committee was set up, and at the headworks villagers provided land for free.

After the project was completed in 1991 (pic, above), more than 230 households had private taps at their doorsteps. Within a year, the user's committee raised Rs 400,000 from each household paying Rs 35 per month for up to 10,000 litres of water. This was more expensive than Kathmandu, where people paid only Rs 15 per month in 1992, but in Dhulikhel the water was reliable and clean.

"This was our dream project, and because it was initiated and run by the townspeople there was no chance it would fail," ex-mayor Shrestha told us in an interview (see Perfect town).

Last year, the user's committee generated revenue worth of Rs 3.6 million from 1,000 consumers, hospitals, schools, police stations and government offices. Dhulikhel's water supply project have become a model of community water supply. Experts from Nepal and abroad have come here to see how it is done.

The water project has become such an inspiration for the local community that they are thinking of investing in a larger network. "If the rest of the country was infected with this can-do attitude there would be a bright future for Nepal," says Din Dayal Soju Shrestha, member of the water users' committee.

"I had heard about Dhulikhel and was so amazed that I had to come and see for myself, it's amazing," says Nancy English from Oregon who was visiting while we were there.

Once Dhulikhel had regular and clean water, Shrestha says, it was easier to go ahead with the plan to turn the town into an education and health care centre. The internationally acclaimed Dhulikhel Hospital and Kathmandu University located themselves in Dhulikhel, and one big reason was reliable water supply.

"Without the water, these two big institutions wouldn't have come here," says Rameswor Parajuli, engineer at the town's water users' committee. The project has made such an impact that the Maoists want Dhulikhel to help locals in Bhumidara set up a similar project there.

"What we have shown is that the people don't always have to rely on the government to bring development into their home towns," says Shiva Bhattarai, administrator at the Dhulikhel Municipality, "Kathmandu can learn a lot from Dhulikhel."

But for now, visitors from Kathmandu can only marvel at the abundant water that Dhulikhelis have, and there is no need to pump it to roof tanks. Says local resident Nilkantha Makaju, with visible pride: "No matter how big your house, there is enough water for everyone all the time."

Perfect town

The people of Dhulikhel elected Bed Prasad Shrestha mayor three times and they have never regretted it. Though no longer in office, the Dhulikhelis still call him Mayor Sa'b in appreciation of his honesty and openness.

The mayor's popularity has nothing to do with his diplomatic charm or close affinity with the local community. He is modest and soft-spoken and least interested in party politics. But when he plans something, he gets it done-efficiently, honestly and quickly. That is why even though he is no longer mayor, he is still the de facto town chief.

"I dream of making Dhulikhel the perfect town," says Bed Prasad as he waves at the scenic panorama of town and the mountains beyond from the roof of his municipality. Most people go to Dhulikhel to look at the mountain vistas, few notice that a lush forest comes right to the town's edge, the vegetation not just giving the town a pleasing ambience but also protecting its water supply.

It is largely during Bed Prasad's tenure that the Dhulikhel municipality earned a reputation for being Nepal's most dynamic municipality. And it is proof of just what one accountable and dedicated person can achieve in Nepal. Dhulikhel has the best university, an international standard hospital and an efficient water supply system built and managed by the local community.

"When you have a clear vision and share it with your community, you don't have to depend on the government or foreign aid," says Bed Prasad (right) who played a major role in persuading the people to donate their land for the Dhulikhel hospital and Kathmandu University.

With less that Rs 15 million as budget, the Dhulikhel Municipality Office relies on the local community for public service projects. Bed Prasad is confident that once the office comes up with good ideas, the people will support it. He is now involved in his 'dreamland' project: to promote Dhulikhel as a tourism, education and health care hub.

The plan includes building a lake, a scenic cable car, restoring old Newari houses and creating an amusement park with a golf club. A large football stadium was built with funds from the local community and seed money from the Japanese government. "Most projects were thought up by the citizens, that is why they succeeded," explains Bed Prasad. This combination of public participation with accountability of the leader is the winning formula in Dhulikhel.

Bed Prasad doesn't take credit for any of this, saying he is just the catalyst that allowed Dhulikhelis to realise what they were capable of. Modest as ever, he adds, "All we had to do was find the courage to do something practical, the rest is easy."

Naresh Newar

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)