“Paani paryo, paani paryo (the rain, the rain)!” the pint-sized, light blue uniform-clad schoolboy beside me on the sidewalk giggled. The busy morning streets, predictably filled with people rushing off to school and work, were also filled with evidence that the monsoon season had arrived in full force: a river of opaque mahogany water – teeming with various floating adornments including food remnants, a kaleidoscopic dung rainbow comprising browns of assorted tints (from greenish to goldish to orangey), pieces of household trash and other debris – had flooded the alleyways and formed an encircling blanket that nearly came up to our knees.
Women lifted their saris up to their thighs and comfortably waded through, schoolchildren jumped and played in the water, and elderly Nepalis with canes bravely trekked along. All of a sudden, widespread laughter erupted among all of us – and not the superficially-friendly chuckles that sometimes arise between strangers due to an unusual random sight – but REAL, side-splitting, wholehearted belly laughter. The contagious fit of hysteria and sheer silliness that engulfed everyone on the streets that morning was, in retrospect, an incredibly surreal memory; it was one of those moments in which the improbable quality of a large number of complete strangers connecting in a single moment leaves the participant spellbound. It was also arguably the most fun I’ve ever had while walking to work.
When I finally arrived at the JMC office – completely soaked and absolutely filthy! – my cheeks still ached from all the laughing. The Western inculcation of antiseptic, germ-phobic paranoia that characterizes an American upbringing had not managed to seep into my consciousness in the midst of the morning commute-turned-swim. However, it was an eerie coincidence to then receive a Google Alert article detailing how the source of all that laughter had also proven to become a source of devastation among many in Nepal, manifesting in disturbingly high incidences of waterborne diseases (including fatal outbreaks of cholera and diarrhea), destruction of homes due to flooding, and widespread displacement that the monsoon season brings.
I’m generally not a fan of listing more than a handful of statistics at a time to illustrate a point, but I felt compelled to share the following in order to exemplify just how dire Nepal’s water/sanitation situation is:
* More than 2/3 of all people in Nepal don’t have access to a toilet (source: UNDP).
* 80% of diseases among Nepalis are contracted due to poor sanitation and unsafe water sources (News from Nepal).
* One third of all people in Nepal live in slum dwellings, and an additional 18,000+ people live in informal, illegal squatter settlements without any land rights (sdinet.org).
* While 40% of children in Nepal suffer from malnutrition and its related diseases, waterborne diseases alone kill one out of 10 children under five every year (sdinet.org).
* Despite the rampant water-related health problems, only about 15% of Nepalis have access to adequate healthcare services (UNDP).
As alarming as these figures are, however, it is important to note that Dalits face a far crueler version of the water and sanitation predicament. Out of all socially stratified groups in Nepal, Dalits are by far the most marginalized due to the age-old practice of untouchability; as such, they are condemned to suffer disproportionately in terms of mortality rates, landlessness, displacement, extreme poverty, and diseases. Due to discrimination in the community and a lack of land rights, Dalits are often forced to build their homes in the most squalid and hazardous areas, and tend to be the primary inhabitants of riverside slums. According to sdinet.org, the polluted riverside areas where Nepal’s poorest residents take shelter are typically the sites of profuse dumping of solid waste by the municipalities. Additionally, when severe rainstorms strike Nepal, riverside slum areas are most adversely affected in the event of flooding, consequent displacement, and heightened exposure to toxins.[continue to Part 2]
Posted By Jessica Tirado
Posted Jul 23rd, 2009