12th October 2016

The dark side of the monsoon

Staff member Dr Khimesh Chhantyal Pun explains the potential dangers of monsoon season in Nepal and describes a recent visit to one of our Rural Water and Sanitation Programmes. 

“The monsoon in Nepal generally occurs between June and September. For an agricultural country like Nepal which depends so much on rainwater for crop production, the monsoon is a welcome sight. But the monsoon, which brings cheer to so many people, also has a dark side. Natural disasters like landslides, soil erosion and floods are common at this particular time of the year. Hundreds of lives can be lost and it causes millions of Nepalese Rupees of damage every year.

Photo: Dr Khimesh tends to a Welfare Pensioner in the field

It is also a season when there is a considerable rise in the number of waterborne diseases and hospital admissions. For a country like Nepal where there is little or no effective healthcare services, people die from the illnesses that prevail in the wet season. However, what most of us do not understand is that these illnesses, that cost us so many lives and such a lot of money, are mostly completely preventable.

With the monsoon in full flow, cases of waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysenteries, typhoid, hepatitis A, etc, become widespread. The main causes for this are a lack of access to clean drinking water, poor sanitation and inadequate personal and community hygiene.

These diseases are caused by pathogenic micro-organisms – viruses, bacteria, protozoa or intestinal parasites. Infected people or animals ‘shed’ these microbes in their faeces, which then enter the water system. Drinking water or preparing food contaminated with these faecal materials are the two most common ways for a person to be infected by these serious pathogens.

As the old saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure”; it often takes less effort to prevent something than to cure it. First of all, people should be motivated and committed to improving their personal health and their environment. Access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation and good personal and community hygiene are critical.

Photo: A Welfare Pensioner using a tap stand in Nepal.

As one of The Gurkha Welfare Trust’s Mobile Doctors, I regularly go on field visits to treat and check up on our elderly and frail pensioners in their homes. During one such trip in Dailekh, in the district of Bheri in west Nepal, I had an opportunity to attend the formal commissioning of one of our Rural and Water and Sanitation Programme’s (RWSP) drinking water projects. This area of our work helps remote areas by providing a clean water supply to all the families in a village through individually installed household taps, and making sure each house has its own toilet.

The impact is impressive! In villages where we have installed water and sanitation systems, sickness rates are down by 95% and the hours spent collecting water have been reduced by an average of 2 hours per family per day. Villagers are also taught how to improve their personal hygiene and waste management.

With significantly lower illness rates and higher crop yields leading to improved nutrition and income generation of unwanted crops, the living standards of the villagers have improved dramatically.

It is impressive to see the impact our Rural Water and Sanitation Programme is having in Nepal; how it is combining the supply of safe drinking water, the installation of effective sanitation and personal health education to control the transmission of faecal-oral diseases and transform people’s health and lives.”

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