WATER DAY Dying For Safe Water

The fact that less than 50 per cent of Nepalese have access to safe drinking waterrenders the popular catchphrase about Nepal’s water abundance meaningless. About 8000 people die every year due to contaminated water. Diarrhea epidemic starts in the w

March 28, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 04 No.-19 Mar.25-2011 (Chaitra 11,2067)

Ganesh Saud, 29, a resident of Sigas village of Baitadi district, 800 kilometers far west of the capital, is yet to recover from the shock of death of his four year daughter Sunita Saud. She died from diarrhea a year ago.

Sunita Lama, 26, a resident of Lokanthali, near Kathmandu, is too recovering from trauma of death of her five year child caused by diarrhea.

“I am very much concerned about the quality of water. I cannot spend a lot of fuel just to boil the water but I cannot drink it either without boiling it,” said Lama, whose daughter died because of contaminated water.

Lama and Saud are not alone. Tens of thousands of people in various parts of Nepal are living such trauma after the loss of their loved ones.

According to WaterAid Nepal, Nepal has to spend a huge amount of money to supply of safe drinking water to all. Presently, the availability of safe drinking water is continuing to decline. Out of 80 percent access, only 50 percent people get safe drinking water.

If Nepal cannot provide drinking water to all its citizens, what is the rationale behind claiming that Nepal is a country of abundant water resources. (See box)

People living in far west and mid-west are most vulnerable as they don’t have other choices but to use whatever water is available to them.  As the month of April approaches, it has already created havoc and uneasiness in mid and far western regions where diarrhea epidemic has been an annual disaster over the last many years.

Although Nepal has already celebrated the World Water Day by organizing a week long program from March 22 to March 28 calling to increase the safe drinking water for all its citizens, people living in far western and mid-western regions are yet to have any respite as the water supply situation has not changed. Even the Constituent Assembly accepted the access to drinking water is a fundamental right but the trauma of Saud and Lama families is yet to come to an end and nobody can guarantee that the situation will change this year.

For the last two years, a large number of people in far west and mid-west had to live in panic during the month of April and May when water born diseases like dihheria emerge as a killer due to contamination of water. As the situation remains the same, nobody rules out the possibility of the same repetition. The poor families living in slums in the capital and other urban areas are too vulnerable.

More than 15 died of diarrhea in Baitadi district last year.  According to District Health office in Baitadi, of those who died, three were residents of Sigas VDC, while the others were residents of Gajari, Thalakada and Shiling VDCs.

Not only children, even youth and old are not safe from diarrhea. A 70-year-old, Taradutta Awasthi, of Belapur-8 died of diarrhea in Dadeldhura.  More than 30 people are affected in Belapur-7 and 8, according to Shumsher Bahadur Bista, a local health worker.

Last year, eight people died of diarrhea in Dadeldhura. With the arrival of summer, an increasing number of diarrhea patients are swarming the district hospital. The relevant District Public Health Offices said people are being increasingly affected by diarrhea in Darchula, Doti and Bajhang districts as well.

Such deaths are also reported in the urban areas like Kathmandu, Bhadrapur, Biratnagar, Mahendrangar and Dhangadhi.

The year 2009 was a year of trauma in far west when more than 282 people lost their lives to a diarrhea epidemic.

Though the government has claimed that it has made provisions to supply safe drinking water in the diarrhea-hit areas, the locals are yet to witness the construction of water taps and covering water sources.

Despite some efforts, the diarrhoea-hit areas lack awareness about water, sanitation and health. The government should act immediately to save innocent lives from the preventable disease. INGOs like WaterAid Nepal is stressing for massive public awareness to put a brake on the diarrheal deaths. This public awareness campaign is yielding some results.

“Safe drinking water and improved sanitation are basic human necessities and they are fundamental to health, growth and development,” said Umesh Pandey, executive director of NEWAH.

However, a large proportion of people in Nepal live without access to these services.

According to the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works (MPPW) 80% percent of the population are reported to have access to improved drinking water sources. Still many people belonging to poor and excluded groups, those living in areas beyond the sources or scarce in ground water resources remain to be served.

Every year a large number of people fall prey to various diseases due to lack of access to improved facilities of water and sanitation coupled with low level of awareness, and this has been a cause for untimely death of many.

The MDG targets to serve 72% the people in Nepal with drinking water and sanitation services by 2015 seem attainable but the national goal of achieving universal coverage by 2017 is a challenging task for the nation. But it is possible through larger political will and commitment and increased investments.

According to WaterAid, investing on water and sanitation can prevent the annual 10,500 diarrheal deaths of children below five or loss in productive labor due to illness caused by lack of access to these services.

As Nepal celebrates the world water day with rituals of harping on the slogans that Nepal is country of abundant water resources this cannot save the lives at risk.

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