Nepal earthquake: dealing with the disaster

On Saturday 25 April, a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, killing over 6,000 people and leaving thousands more injured. WaterAid's Technical Advisor for South Asia, Arjen Naafs, is currently in Nepal and leading WaterAid's emergency response.


1 May 2015

On the surface, life in Kathmandu is getting back to whatever normal can be after your city has been devastated by an earthquake.

Restaurants are reopening, many people are going back to work and some of the thousands who have been sleeping outside since the quake happened have begun to return home. They are the lucky ones who still have a home.

When I arrived on Wednesday, it was to a city shell-shocked and fearful. Every aftershock – and there have been around 600 so far – sent people running into the streets. People were either sleeping outside or in shifts, someone always awake and vigilant for a second quake. As the aftershocks lessen in intensity and frequency, people are able to sleep better and so function better during the day.

WaterAid's Arjen Naafs reports live from Nepal on BBC Breakfast, talking about the water and sanitation needs in Kathmandu.

Just yesterday afternoon, however, a rumour went around town spread by social media and a wildfire of whispers that the 'Big One' would strike at five o’clock causing people to flee into the streets. Logical? No, because no one can predict when a quake will strike, but completely understandable given what this city has been through.

WaterAid Nepal colleagues are juggling starting the emergency response work with trying to make contact with friends and family and cope with the personal impact of the quake. Two of the staff have lost their homes entirely, another three have worrying cracks in the walls and all are struggling to take in what has happened.

Around the city there are 16 camps for people who are now homeless. All the water tankers supplying the camps have to use the same water sources resulting in between four to five hours' wait. Once the water has arrived at camp, there is currently no storage tank for the water which makes distribution difficult.

Only two of the camps currently have sanitation provided. This is deeply worrying because people have no choice but to relieve themselves outside, creating the perfect environment for an epidemic to take hold.

So WaterAid is working to avoid a second disaster hitting Nepal. Our partners have already started to distribute chlorine to people who no longer have a safe source of drinking water. A drop or two will kill the microbes that can cause a whole host of waterborne diseases including cholera, typhoid and dysentery. Cholera is endemic in Nepal so it is crucial that we act now to stop any chance of the disease getting a foothold.

We have already been on the radio talking about the importance of maintaining good hygiene and soon will be distributing hygiene packs to those who need them.

Many homes and buildings have been destroyed in Kathmandu.
Photo: WaterAid/ Mani Karmacharya

The work ahead is not easy. Whilst we know the needs in Kathmandu and so relief work is well underway, just a few miles outside the city the situation is much less clear. The earthquake has rendered a region which was already difficult to access, much more challenging and the vital information we all need to plan a comprehensive and effective response is limited.

The earthquake has damaged many of the roads into the more remote areas where even before many communities were a hike away from even dirt roads. Reports back estimate that in many places between 70% and 90% of buildings have been badly damaged so we are expecting that much of the water and sanitation infrastructure will have been rendered useless.

But we are working closely with nine partnership organisations and our long history in the country means that we have the networks and relationships in place to do our work.

We are also clear that whilst over the next few weeks we will be doing all we can to respond to immediate needs created by the quake, we are here for the long term. It will take at least a year to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed and return communities' water and sanitation services to where they were before Saturday’s events. However we also have an opportunity to try and improve those services and make life easier and safer for the people of Nepal.

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