On the north-west corner of Nepal, lies the mountainous district of Humla.
The district is nature’s paradise with majestic mountains and pine forests…
… and is extremely rich in ethnic diversity too.
The second largest district of the country is one of the only two districts in Nepal which is not connected by road to the rest of the country.
The nearest road head is a four-day long walk away. So, the only ways to reach the district that shares border with China, is either by air….
… by foot, or by mules and ponies.
We were lucky to visit Humla. We first had to fly from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj, which lies next to the Indian border. From there we had to catch an early morning 1-hour flight (on a smaller aircraft) tot Simikot, the district headquarters of Humla.
Simikot which lies at an altitude of 3000 meters has become a transit point for pilgrims who travel to neighboring China to visit Mount Kailash, said to be the abode of the Hindu god Shiva.
Despite being blessed with nature and diversity, Humla district lies second from the bottom in terms of Human Development Index in Nepal. Being isolated from the rest of the country, the residents of Humla are still deprived of proper health, education, nutrition and other basic facilities.
The prices of basic commodities are extremely inflated here as everything is first airlifted, then carried by humans, mules or yaks.
Despite the hardship, there is no shortage of smiles in this place.
On 4th December 2017, the people of Humla achieved something spectacular. The district was declared open defecation free, meaning everyone had a toilet in their homes, and were using them! It became the fourth mountainous district and 43rd district of Nepal to achieve this status.
The achievement is commendable because just six years ago, only half of Humla’s households had access to toilet facilities. Now all 10,125 households in all seven gaunpalikas (rural municipalities) of Humla have access to toilets.
The historic day was celebrated with much fanfare by the Humli people.
It was a special day for the young…
… and those a bit older
To mark the day, the residents of Humla took out a rally in the district headquarters Simikot. School children who were part of the sanitation social movement in striving to make their school catchment areas also free of open defecation participated in the celebrations too.
The colourful rally later converged into a celebratory event at a public ground which was attended by people from all walks of lives. It was a full house at the public ground.
The Humli people from various ethnic backgrounds came in dressed in their best traditional attire, like these two Thakuranis…
… or these three Simikot locals performing the Deuda dance.
Aside from the kaleidoscope of traditional dances and songs, the celebrations also featured boisterous performances from the younger folks.
Many came to the function in full regalia displaying the rich cultural heritage of these areas that border with Tibet in China.
The event was attended by high level dignitaries like the former minister of Water and Sanitation, local leaders, government officials, political leaders, development partners and media.
"It is only because of our haatemaalo (holding hands) that Humla has been able to celebrate its ‘free of open defecation’ status" said Dr. Tameez Ahmad, UNICEF Nepal's chief of Water and Sanitation section while congratulating the residents of Humla.
On the occasion, the residents of Humla also made public commitment to maintain their open defecation free (ODF) status effectively and proceed towards total sanitation in the coming days.
Ending open defecation is the first step to total sanitation. Nepal’s goal of universal sanitation is not far away. So far, 95 per cent of total population in the country has access to toilet facilities.
Congratulations to the people of Humla once again for this achievement!