Water and other dilemmas after the Nepal earthquake

Published: 21 October 2015 15:47 CET

By Rosemarie North, IFRC

The whole village of Kshamawati moved after the 12 May earthquake. Their old location on a steep hillside in the eastern district of Dolakha is now a landslide risk. Above it perches a huge boulder that could come down at any time.

For now, Kshamawati people – who are from the Thami ethnic group – are camping in shelters made of bamboo, tarpaulins and corrugated iron sheeting on land belonging to the Nepal Department of Forests.

Two outdoor taps are almost constantly in use. Women fetch water in containers, scour pots and plates, or wash children’s faces at the taps.

The water systems were set up by the Nepal Red Cross Society after the disaster, which disrupted water supplies and sanitation systems for hundreds of thousands of people, leaving them at risk of water-borne diseases. Water and sanitation is an important element in the Red Cross’ massive emergency relief operation, when 4.6 million litres of safe drinking water, and 1.3 million items like water purification tablets, toothbrushes and soap were distributed to more than 620,000 people affected by the earthquakes.

Other emergency relief during the first six months after the 25 April earthquake included tarpaulins and tools to build temporary shelters for 550,000 people,70,000 cash grants so 350,000 could buy what they needed at the time, and health care for 88,000 people.

Village coordinator Shankerman Thami says the two taps are good but sometimes the supply dries up.

“I have to wait in line to get water and there isn’t enough. The other day, something went wrong at the source and we didn’t get water for two to three days. Water is a necessity. We need water for hygiene. If tomorrow we don’t get water, this area will become unhygienic, epidemics will start spreading.”

Sangita Thami lives a short distance away and has been trained by the Red Cross to do basic maintenance to the pipes that bring water to her house.

“Many pipelines and water tanks have been damaged in the earthquake. Debris keeps blocking water channels to the village. We have to keep repairing it or there’s no water.”

Over the next 18 months, to help ensure the water flows reliably, the Red Cross will not only improve the infrastructure, but also continue to train community members in maintaining it, says Umesh Prasad Dhakal, the head of earthquake response operations at the Nepal Red Cross Society.

“When we construct water schemes in communities we engage communities in planning, maintaining and managing the supply. So we provide communities with skills and once this scheme is over communities will have the responsibility to ensure it is maintained and there’s a regular supply of water in the communities. We have observed this as a sustainable approach in our past interventions.”

The Red Cross will also promote hygiene with activities such as radio shows, community meetings, illustrated flyers and training for school children.

“Our experience from the past shows that providing a water supply and sanitation facilities alone is not enough. That’s why we’ll be conducting training programmes for communities on hygiene and how to practice positive health behaviour.

“And on top of that, we’ll also be ensuring that the houses that we’ll be supporting people to construct have latrines attached.”

In many cases, rebuilding and restoring water and sanitation will be a straightforward – if not swift – job.

But there’s a hurdle Shankerman Thami needs to solve for Kshamawati.

“I don’t think we can settle here permanently. This land belongs to the government. We will have to move if the government asks us to. But the land back in our village is destroyed by the landslide. We are very uncertain about where to build our houses. We have a lot of problems.”