Nepal: hope restored as ICRC brings lifesaving water to villagers
Despite a glorious history in ancient times as the seat of a powerful king of Nepal, Jumla is today one of the poorest and least developed districts in the country, suffering from the effects of a decade-long civil war. Its villages are plagued with high infant mortality due to poor sanitation and lack of clean drinking water. The ICRC is bringing hope to the region by building new water supply systems and restoring existing ones.
‘We lost seven of our ten children after childbirth, one after the other. I don’t know why. We don’t like this house, this place – it must have been built on bad ground. We have to leave this house, this village’. The man speaking these words is a villager in Seri Bazaar, an isolated village in mountains of western Nepal. For the ICRC engineers staying with the villager and his family, it was difficult to say exactly why his family had to bear such a profound tragedy. But looking at the poor sanitation and total lack of clean drinking water in his village, these are the likely causes of the infants’ deaths.
Seri Bazaar is located in Jumla, one of the most remote districts in the high mountains of Nepal. Most of the settlements of Jumla are located above two thousand metres, dotted along the broad valley of the Tila River which runs from east to west through the district. Separated from the lowlands by a series of towering mountain ranges, Jumla is cut off from the rest of the country. There are no roads which reach Jumla and the only way to travel to the district headquarters is by small plane or by walking for up to a week over the mountain passes. Seri Bazaar is an eight hour walk from the district headquarters, so the sense of remoteness is complete.
Since 2004, the ICRC has been providing assistance for the water and habitat infrastructure in seventeen villages of Jumla district. During the conflict, it was the only organization that could work freely outside of the district headquarters. There are acute needs for water supply infrastructure, resulting from years of deterioration in the quality of the infrastructure. Water supply systems were broken or leaking and many tap stands were left dry.
Seri Bazaar is in many ways a typical village of Jumla. It is a small settlement of mud and stone houses on the banks of the Tila River. During the summer months, the villagers plant crops and graze their animals in the high pastures. Following the onset of the bitterly cold winters, the men leave for India where they find menial jobs to support their families.
The hills surrounding the village are mostly dry and bare of forest, so there is a scarcity of clean drinking water. Although the villagers live on the banks of the river, this water is quite polluted from settlements upstream and it is unfit for drinking. The villagers take water from the river and they boil it or drink it untreated. Firewood is very scarce and boiling the water depletes this precious resource.
There are no toilets in the village and sanitation conditions are very poor. Infant mortality is high and many of the children d ie suddenly at a young age. Faced with a harsh life and their daily burden of collecting water and wood, rearing livestock and other chores, the people of Seri could not see any way to change their fortunes.
Following their initial visit to the village, the ICRC decided to take immediate steps to improve the conditions. Working with the villagers and the Nepal Red Cross Society, ICRC engineers and technicians built an entirely new water supply system to bring clean water to the village. During the initial survey, the team explored a canyon on the opposite side of the river, which leads high into the mountains. Guided by locals, they discovered a spring of pure water gushing from underneath a boulder. A pipeline has been installed to bring this water to the village, traversing steep cliffs and rugged terrain. The ICRC team also constructed toilets for the local school to improve the sanitation conditions in the village.
The organization constructed an 8,000 litre water storage tank and several public tap stands in the village. The women of the village no longer have to climb down to the Tila River to get contaminated river water but can access clean water from the public tap stands. The children studying at the school have access to toilets and plentiful drinking water. For the people of this village, clean drinking water and better sanitation facilities are already starting to have a positive impact on their lives.
The father of the family who lost so many children shared his new hope with the ICRC team: ‘Now we people of Seri feel hopeful about the future, we have good water to drink and the village is cleaner, more developed.’ Looking at his three young sons playing together next to the village tap he may have felt his burden become a little easier to bear.
The ICRC team expects to complete all the rehabilitation work in the seventeen villages of Jumla by early 2007.