Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Field scenario: Good and Bitter Experiences

Anushiya Shrestha
Research Assistant
Peri-urban Water Security Project
Nepal Engineering College

With regular field visits and meetings with local community, interaction with the local people has been easier. Still reaching the households as per the predefined strata and then meeting the male and female members from same household was not easy. As the caste system is well defined in Nepali community, getting to meet the individuals from a particular caste was not very difficult rather getting information from both male and female from a selected house was more challenging. Having very cooperative field assistant, Ms. Champa Gurung, meeting the criteria has been easier in Matatirtha. But at times expectation from the term “Project” makes me to disguise oneself as a student undertaking thesis. With field assistant from local community, identifying member of a relevant family at houses, fields, pastureland, shops or social recreational gathering, approaching the person for collecting the information is what we have been doing at Matatirtha.

After numbers of community interactions and having understood the general community water management strategy, the research team has now got into household questionnaire survey. The household questionnaire survey under process has unveiled diversity of water management techniques that people have been adopting as per their affordability in terms of economy, technology and information reach. The range varies from a very poor old couple who have been almost left out by sons to those Government first class level officers with all family members in service and agricultural land leased out on labor basis and field activities are still ongoing. The livelihoods range is broad. This reminds our field sites are "peri-urban".

Each day of the visits has been fruitful. Rapport built with community during the scoping phase of the project has been very helpful in reaching the households.  There are several cases where I have been offered tea, lunch and even rice from the respondent and at times people show interest to share their experiences that they start sharing very personal family matters which though may not be directly relevant to our study but it becomes very inconsiderate to stop them and try to generate only the relevant information. Along with good response, also have to face cases from very poor economy stating expectations for help to reduce their hardships and even comment like "Are you going to pay me?" Nevertheless, during the field visits, there are also cases where the embarrassing remarks have been made. One of such incident occurred upon taking our professional photographer to the site where a very rude comment was made telling "They are the people who show pictures of our village to donors and collect money based on our situations."

Regular interaction with key stakeholders is very necessary in generating information as the dynamic peri-urban sites are undergoing continuous changes. And it is very necessary to clarify the limitations of the project as a research team and individual researcher from the initial phase because as the rapport building proceeds, even the stakeholders expect personal benefits from the research institute which though could be very relevant at personal point of view due to their regular help for research and field activities but are completely beyond the reach as an individual researcher. Such situations become very awkward and have to be handled very carefully.
One major problem in the peri-urban sites that is quite prominent in Matatirtha is the power play as a great tool not only for individual benefit but also for cluster or community within the VDC. In the VDC, easily water accessed zones are those in which the local community includes one or more individuals with political engagement. Rather than getting stagnant and waiting for the local government to take the entire responsibility, this proactive action cannot be considered negative. The problem with this practice is, the clusters with no political engagement are lagged behind and the facilities are increasing driven to limited areas.  Those previously considered untouchable and discriminated as untouchable are not as under privileged as it was in the past. Their involvement in political parties based on ethnic groups has considerably overcome their marginality making them less vulnerable.

                                            "Afnai Gaon Ko Pani Khana Paisa Tirnu Parcha!"

The willingness to pay for services has not been quite impressive in this VDC as the majority of the community still considers the Government to be completely responsible for the developmental activities be it road extension, black topping or water services. "Afnai gaon ko pani khana paisa tirnu parch!" is a narration that mean we are paying money for water resource of our village which our ancestors had been drinking for free. The investment has been in construction of reservoir and distribution tanks and laying of pipes for household or public taps under different community water management schemes functioning in the VDC. In the VDC, these community schemes charge flat water tariff of Rs. 100 to Rs. 200 per month and as per the representatives of community water management committees, the willingness to pay this is not good putting these schemes under financial stress. As per them, this is one of the main reasons making the existing schemes trying to be united as Integrated Water Management Schemes and generate fund from District Development Committee. But the concept of replacing free water service with "affordable water service”, how pragmatic this concept could be is still in doubt and to be decided by the stakeholders.
There are cases where people are so habituated to external support that they feel it is the research team responsible to take the responsibility of managing water access for the community. During a local community meeting at Takhel in ward no.1 of Matatirtha VDC, the local people raised dissatisfaction towards local government for ignoring the demand for homestead pipe water access. A socially acclaimed individual proposed on submitting an application addressing Nepal Engineering College to take lead to pressurize District Development Committee (DDC) for water management for this cluster. This was a bolt out of blue as the need was to proactively take initiative to pressurize local government to support household water management in the cluster and bypassing the local government and approaching directly to DDC could not be effective solution.

Upon discussion it came forward that the written application had been submitted to the VDC office however it was not registered as incoming application under the official formality. Meanwhile, the then VDC secretary got transferred and a current VDC secretary got appointed who was completely unaware about the application process. Moreover there was no follow up from the community after the submission of application making the process fail. After the meeting, the cluster is in the process to restart the water management process by submitting the application through women groups. This reprocessing if lack the dedication can again turn into failure, is something the people have understood and are in process to collect signature from individual households. But with individuals shifting the responsibility from one head to another, speaks for the possible reason of previous failure.  

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