Nell Vasa

Sanitation Changemaker

Revolutionizing Urban Sanitation Amidst Challenging Terrain

Nell Vasa’s journey in the realm of urban development and sanitation unfolds as a narrative shaped by dedicated interventions and a profound commitment to community engagement. His role as a Senior Environmental Officer within the State Urban Development Department echoes his deep-rooted involvement in transforming sanitation practices in the northeastern state of Nagaland. With his background ranging from land resources to pollution control, he brought a unique perspective to urban development in Nagaland, tackling the challenges of the hilly terrain and limited infrastructure head-on. 

Nell had been a silent force driving transformative change in urban sanitation, particularly focusing on feacal waste management in Nagaland. His journey, from working with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to leading significant projects within the urban development sphere, showcase his unwavering dedication to improving living conditions in the state. 

His journey commenced with the ADB Assistance Project, targeting urban infrastructure, including water supply, sewerage, sanitation, and solid waste management. In a terrain, where conventional sewer lines were impractical due to narrow roads and challenging landscapes, Vasa introduced innovative solutions. He focused on septic tanks as a primary means of waste management. However, disposing and treating the sludge was a challenge until he pioneered the implementation of the 90 kilolitres per day fecal sludge management plan, employing the Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket technology, where wastewater flows upwards through a blanket and is processed by anaerobic microorganisms. This initiative addressed the lack of treatment facilities for the vast number of septic tanks in the state, positively impacting around 20,000 households in Kohima.  

The project also involved constructing community toilet blocks, emphasizing community involvement and ownership. Convincing the community was a task involving extensive discussions, focus group meetings, and highlighting the benefits of the project for both the people and the environment. He was also able to highlight the potential for improved livelihoods through which he finally managed to garner community support. Addressing the challenges of climate and sanitation, Nell adopted a holistic approach, considering factors like rainfall, drought, and flash floods and the region's topography to ensure disaster preparedness was a key focus. This vision aimed to prepare the sanitation infrastructure to withstand the effects of climate change, a critical consideration given Nagaland's diverse geographical features and susceptibility to disasters. 

The impact was significant, with reduced effluent disposal into natural drains, contributing to a cleaner and healthier environment. However, despite the success of the intervention, challenges persisted, especially in sustaining Operations and Maintenance (O&M) post-contractor involvement. Nell’s resolve led him to seek solutions that had worked in other states, including outsourcing O&M contracting to private parties, aiming to resume operations by 2024. Despite the complexities, Vasa emphasized that the core tenet in urban development continues to be community involvement. He believed that building trust and confidence within communities could mitigate challenges, making urban infrastructure more adaptable and resilient.

His journey from land resources to pollution control and then urban development had significantly influenced his approach. His multifaceted experiences allowed him to comprehend the intricate relationship between environmental concerns and urban development projects. 

His story exemplifies the impact that an individual, deeply committed to community involvement and innovative approaches, can have in transforming urban sanitation, especially in regions where traditional methods might not suffice. Through his dedication, Nell Vasa illuminated a path toward sustainable and community-centric urban development in Nagaland.