In this blog entry we seek answers to the question about what a WASH project such as RWSSP-WN can do with regards to disasters: before, during, immediately after, and thereafter. We do have a lot of what it takes, but how and where can we best contribute? This blog text reflects the opinions of the authors, yet, it frames the topic for our next Annual Work Plan that will propose contributions for reconstruction.
In April 25, 2015, Nepal was shaken by the magnitude 7.8 earthquake with the epicentre in a village of Barpak in Gorkha district. This is our neighbouring district. It was followed by the magnitude 6.7 soon after, and in May 12, 2015, with another magnitude 7.4. In between these dates, there were hundreds of smaller aftershocks that added to the damage resulting in more landslides, landslips and avalanches. The earthquake appeared strongest in areas east of the epicentre, but even then, half of the RWSSP-WN present working districts were affected. ICIMOD provides imagery of landslides that are among the hazards that occur after an earthquake. See also UN OCHA and the Government of Nepal for updates.
The conditions that allow people to live with good health, dignity, comfort and security.
The above are all our working themes but we are not set up as a rapid response or emergency response unit. RWSSP-WN is a bilateral water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) development project. We aim at sustainable, long-term solutions. We are also embedded into the local governments who run our district programmes and are the employers of the field based staff. We cannot and we should not by-pass this setup. Our most significant contribution will be in the reconstruction phase. Yet, there is a lot we are doing already now.
Disasters are nothing new to rural Nepal where landslides and floods are annually occurring local disasters. Land use changes and erosion contribute to that even without extreme weather events. These can be localized events, practically invisible for the outside world. Nevertheless, they do cause equal misery and loss for those affected. Sanitation, hygiene and safe water supply are always critical and something truly urgent in any disaster. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies note how without sanitation there is a risk of a secondary disaster, in which the people who have survived the earthquake could succumb to preventable disease. It is also a security issue for women and children living in temporary shelters.
Substance wise, we do have what it takes, we can contribute in many ways:
1. Post-disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) is a Nepal government-led exercise, with integrated support from the United Nations, the European Commission, the World Bank and other national and international actors. A PDNA compiles information on the physical impacts of a disaster, the economic value of the damages and losses, the human impacts as experienced by the affected population, and the resulting early and long-term recovery needs and priorities. At the time of writing this blog, RWSSP-WN II has contributed a team of three Nepalese professionals with a vehicle & driver to support the PDNA. Our experience in preparing baselines, VDC-wide WASH plans, and mainstreaming of cross-cutting issues such as Gender and Social Inclusion principles in our work, have resulted in a team that can immediately answer many of the questions that are typically presented for WASH related check lists, such as SPHERE Water supply and sanitation initial needs assessment checklist in the Minimum standards in water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion (Appendix 8). The field presence means that this kind of information can be collected very quickly from the working VDCs and the adjoining areas. At any given time, any of the field based staff can answer 80% of the questions without any further need for orientation and mobilization. Most of the field-based staff being local, they are familiar with geographical and socio-cultural issues.