A Tale of Water and Disaster Relief in Nepal

Thirst: the urgent physiological demand to consume a liquid.

Nepal. High-noon sun sparks river water. Yaks graze. Tiny villages cleave to mountain slopes carpeted in forests the color of jade. Somewhere sherpas, wool cap-flaps snugging their ears, hoist backpacks as they ready to herd tourists into an ascent of beckoning pristine peaks.

Illusion: an erroneous perception of reality.

Even before the devastating earthquakes of April 25 and May 12, 2015, days in most of Nepal could hardly be called halcyon. The landlocked country of 27.8 million people is one of the planet’s poorest, with 42% living below poverty level. Though 80% of the population has access to water, it concedes that it is unsafe. Some issues echo those of other water-critical countries: small, polluted water sources far from homes; deadly surface water contamination; drought; floods.

However, the deep-earth convulsions of the pre-monsoon season, compounded such problems nearly beyond computation.

A Tale of Ajala

Imagine a child - call her Ajala*, a name meaning “earth.” Perhaps hers is a subsistence farming family living in the Gorkha region - the epicenter of the quake. Before the seismic upheaval, access to safe water was a deep challenge. Tube wells, on which most rural communities rely for drinking water, are heavy with arsenic, as porous local earth interlocks with flood plains fed by contaminated rivers. Ajala makes daily long walks seeking a less dirty ground source. At night, though, she listens to stories of the legendary Gurkha soldiers and how the very creation of Nepal happened near her homestead.

A Tale of Kaushal

Imagine that 90 miles away in Kathmandu lives Ajala’s counterpart. Call him Kaushal*, a name meaning “skilled.” Perhaps his is a family of craftsmen toiling to supply souvenir shops with items “locally made” for the tourist trade - icons, jewelry, vividly colored wool-wear. Kaushal’s family lives in one of the warrens shimmed into ancient architecture that house a burgeoning population and engorge the old city. Before the seismic upheaval, access to safe water would have been a deep challenge for his family, too: a densely-packed neighborhood suffering water sources contaminated by industry, by domestic waste, by discharge of untreated sewage - Kathmandu alone produces 300 tons of untreated waste daily that enters rivers. 

The Nepalese calendar is lunisolar and nearly 57 years ahead of western Gregorian dating. On April 14, families across Nepal celebrated their New Year for 2072. Eleven days into that new year, a catastrophic morning dawned. Villages throughout the Gorkha region became piles of conglomerate rock and wood. A family like Ajala’s - rural outdoor workers - would likely have escaped death. A family like Kaushal’s, living in a city where wails rose while walls fell, might have known a sadder outcome. When the temblors stopped, an estimated 2.8 million Nepali children had been affected.

How can Hope emerge from such devastation, in a land already filled with the hidden and the hurting? It emerges as a beacon with the arrival of First Responders and Disaster Relief teams, like those sent by Global Hope Network International (GHNI).

Providing safe water to traumatized and injured victims is a priori. Disaster relief to locations with strong pre-disaster infrastructure is difficult enough, but to places already tottering on a devastating brink regarding water, the logistics can be staggering: In Nepal, the earthquake fractured pipes and tanks that introduced even more dangerous contaminants into drinking water supplies. Heavy, pelting rain flooded emergency tent camps, carrying domestic waste into swollen disease-ridden streams, tributaries to already polluted rivers.

The city scene:

Local GHNI workers are galvanized into action, first responding to the emergent needs of their families, then to the horrifying chaos beyond their own doors. Then they activate The Plan: Meet the delivery of bottled water; Unload; Initiate distribution to desperately thirsty victims; Repeat until supply runs out; Give reassurance that more is coming.

Above street cacophony is “Thirkaa! - I am thirsty!,”  from people suffering days of thirst. They receive iodine tablets, instructions for umaleko pani - boiled water, simple filters. At a makeshift headquarters, GHNI responders mobilize medical teams and distribute food, clothing, medicine, blankets...

The rural scene:

With road destruction, flooding, and steep, muddy mountain trails, countryside victims are largely inaccessible by truck. Dedicated Disaster Relief teams take on the task of trekking in water to remotest reaches. In some villages, GHNI was the only organization providing relief.

While there is tough chaos in the early days after a catastrophe, GHNI’s Disaster Relief teams are trained, dedicated people who enter those shattered lives holding high a standard of hope. And in Nepal, as recovery shifts into a challenging, long-term effort, there is bright opportunity for a new normal in villages across Nepal: GHNI’s Transformational Community Development (TCD) plan, a coached-based process whereby a village transforms itself from severe poverty to sustainable, healthy living.

“People here need relief and development both. We have little resources and have had to sort out the neediest of needy to reach and bless...,” says Kiran Karki, GHNI National Leader in Nepal. “While devastating, the earthquakes have opened doors for TCD...”

Any contribution you can share toward water needs in rural villages will have far-reaching effects: The people you help - children like Ajala and Kaushal - will no longer have to say, “Thirkaa,” because you will have helped permanently quench their thirst. They will say, instead, “Dhanybhad - Thank you!”

Will you contribute toward water needs in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East so that, rain or shine, no children go thirsty?

*Ajala and Kaushal are fictional representations of actual people.