AN old woman bends double to scrub cooking pots at a standpipe outside her home in a village in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Further up the steeply terraced hill, her neighbour is washing clothes, rubbing them on the ground under a tap to work up a lather.

Incredibly, having their own cold water taps seems like the height of luxury to them. They are beneficiaries of a new water system installed by WaterAid which provides them and 57 other families nearby with their own supply.

Schemes like this exist thanks to the founders of WaterAid, including Maurice Lowther. He was managing director of Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company when he helped to set up the charity in 1981. The aim is to supply safe water to everyone worldwide by 2030, by harnessing help from hundreds of partners in governments and both the private and public sector.

Maurice lived in Wall, and passed away in 2016. His wife, Valerie, said he felt WaterAid was one of his biggest achievements. At his funeral, donations raised £1,250.

Before WaterAid’s new scheme in Nepal, women like 78 year old Sanu Maiya Shrestha had to trudge downhill on rough paths to a community tap, two or three times a day. They queued to fill plastic containers, then carried them back uphill, a time consuming and back-breaking job. The water was their only supply for washing and cooking and had to be filtered or boiled before drinking.

Queues at communal standpipes are a common sight throughout Nepal, but Sanu will never have to do that again.

“I’m very happy to have my own tap,” said Sanu. “I live with my son and daughter in law. But he works away and I have to do all the chores and look after the grandchildren when his wife is working on their land.

“Having water close to the house gives me more independence, time and energy.”

It was sheer good luck that brought me to Sanu’s village, Kavre, near Kushadevi. I was on a trekking holiday when the tour organiser mentioned that his wife Tripti Rai is Nepal’s country director of WaterAid.

She offered to take me on a field trip she had already arranged to monitor and learn from the project work in Kavre. On the two-hour drive along a busy main road then bouncing up dusty, rough tracks into the hills, she explained that WaterAid Nepal received £2.5 - £2.8 million annually from WaterAid UK.

Projects are selected according to need, and only undertaken after close consultation with local people.

Tripti said “Experience has shown it’s vital that the community is actively involved at every stage, from development, to installation, then managing it long term.

“We invest lots of time building strong relationships between WaterAid and our partners the Centre for Integrated Urban Development, the local municipalities and the community council. Then we help villagers to set up a Water Users Committee, or else if they already have one, we help build their capabilities which gives them a sense of ownership.”

When we arrived, the Water Users Committee was waiting to show us round and introduce us to beneficiaries. Nepalese villages in hilly regions are often spread across steep terraces where rice, maize, wheat and potatoes are grown, so diverting a water supply to each household was a complex job.

Every household was expected to help build the new water system. In Kavre, it took 70 people working every day for one month to pipe water from its source 1,528 metres away, across a small valley and up a sheer hillside.

Each household has a water meter, and monthly payments are calculated and recorded. Small sums are also saved for future repairs.

The committee has trained an officer to check the water purity and clean the tank regularly, collect tariffs from households and generally maintain the system.

Every household also pledges up to 20 days a year for labour, when it is needed.

Thirty four-year-old Ganga Shrestha has lived in Kavre for 20 years. She explained: “We had to dig out the channel for the pipeline. We had big blisters on our hands, but we didn’t mind and we worked happily because we knew what a big improvement the scheme would make to our lives.

“Before, I was always queuing for water, even if I was really ill. People quarrelled about whose turn it was, and sometimes the water supply dried up. Life is so much easier now.”

Nepal is known worldwide for its ancient culture and stunning scenery with the Himalayan backdrop. But it is the 12th poorest country in the world, with 25 per cent of its population living in unimaginable poverty. The average income is less than $2 a day. Many have no electricity, no running water and no latrines and they eke out a subsistence existence. In April 2015, the worst earthquake in living memory devastated the country, and today the rubble and ruins in cities and countryside are a constant reminder.

Tripti Rai said “We know many people and companies in the UK contribute to WaterAid and we depend on their generosity. We are very grateful, and we can assure donors that we make the most of every penny to bring sustainable water supplies to the people that most need it.”

In Kavre, the villagers were particularly keen and co-operative. The total cost of the scheme was almost £15,000 (NPR 2,176,317). The local municipality contributed £684 (NPR 100,000).

Seventy two-year-old Ram Krishna Sapkola stood by the community tap, which was installed by WaterAid about 20 years ago, and described how the charity made life so much better.

He said “I pay one hundred rupees (about 70p) every month. I can see on my meter how much water I’m using, and I’m very careful not to leave the tap on and run up a big bill. I used to spend ages here queuing for water. When it wasn’t the rainy season, I had to hang around for ages waiting for the water to accumulate. Now, it’s marvellous. WaterAid has looked after this village, and we don’t take that for granted at all. We are more grateful than words can say.”