Is WASH Setting Up to be the Next Disaster in Nepal?

Having been struck by a second major earthquake in less than three weeks, it’s nearly impossible to look beyond the rubble where cities and villages once stood and past the number of people injured, missing, and dead. But disasters, whether natural or man made, often beget other crises. As crews of people and scores of relief supplies drop into Nepal, a WASH crisis is on the horizon. To make matters worse, monsoon season is quickly approaching, which makes for a hotbed of diseases like cholera and dengue.

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Cholera was already endemic in Nepal and WASH efforts were a serious struggle before the earthquakes hit. In fact, according to the New York Times, getting the 61,000 households in the rural Sindhupalchok district took “years of intense efforts.” But so far, the WHO is reporting that there have been some sporadic cases of diarrheal diseases, but nothing out of the ordinary and there is no indication of an outbreak—yet. Regardless, things aren’t looking good.

Chief of WASH for Unicef in Nepal, Antti Rautavaara, remarked, “There will be outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. It is a battle we cannot win. We can only try to minimize the pain and death.”

Though the main focus is still on recovery and relief efforts, a handful of organizations are addressing those challenges while keeping a keen eye on water and sanitation.

Lutheran World Relief, which just received a $300,000 grant from the Gates Foundation, has been providing blankets, personal care kits, and water filtration units to earthquake victims. The organization has been promoting both long term development and disaster resiliency in Nepal since 2009. In the wake of the recent earthquakes, Lutheran World Relief has raised over $1 million earmarked for both immediate emergency relief and medium term recovery efforts.

Gates also gave Oxfam International a $700,000 grant to support its priority work of preventing secondary disasters as a direct result of the earthquakes. This work includes building sanitation facilities in temporary camps and making sure people have clean water.

Other organizations hustling for WASH efforts before the monsoon season hits in June include CARE International, which is moving quickly to distribute food, water purifiers, soap, and mats to people in some of the hardest hit areas. Concern World Wide has also jumped in to help with WASH efforts.

Concern Worldwide had been working in Nepal in the fields of livelihood, nutrition, and WASH for a handful of years prior to the quakes. It is now partnering with Rural Reconstruction Nepal and Nepal Water for Health to distribute shelter and relief kits to 14,000 families in the Sindhulpalchowk, Dolakha and Sindhuli districts. The organization also has plans in the works to rebuild damaged WASH infrastructure.

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Other organizations such as World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and SOS Children’s Villages International are addressing Nepal’s WASH needs as a smaller part of their respective emergency relief and recovery programs.

Though the scale, scope, and costs of Nepal’s recovery are still being assessed, the clock is definitely ticking on Nepal's WASH problem.