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Providing safe drinking water to flood-affected populations in Saptari, Nepal

© UNICEF/2007/Ghimire
Munni Yadav, a community health volunteer in Saptari, teaches Tulivya (left) and Lila, her granddaughter, about Waterguard, a water purifying agent.

By Robin Giri

SAPTARI DISTRICT, Nepal, 11 January 2008 – Last year’s flooding across Nepal, which damaged water systems and contaminated drinking water, has prompted UNICEF and the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission (ECHO) to combat the threat right at the source.

Working together, the partners have initiated a pilot project that supports water purification for populations affected by the floods. The project is helping prevent outbreaks of diarrhoea among children and women in Saptari District, eastern Nepal.

‘Safe to drink’

“Just add two drops of this liquid into a container full of water and let it sit for about 30 minutes – then the water is safe to drink,” advises Munni Yadav, a female community health volunteer, to Tuliya and her granddaughter Lila in Bisariya village.

Ms. Yadav holds up a bottle of Waterguard, a water purification agent, and points to the markings on the cap of the bottle to demonstrate how much should be used for varying amounts of drinking water.

Each 240 ml bottle of Waterguard costs about 50 cents and can purify enough drinking water for a family of six for 45 days. This pilot project provides a bottle of Waterguard and a bar of soap to each of about 17,000 families most affected by the floods.

Contaminated water sources

The seasonal flooding and landslides across Nepal this year killed 146 people and also caused extensive damage to tube wells, as well as polluting lakes and other drinking water sources.

“We discovered that groundwater contamination was so severe that even after treatment, whole villages were contracting diarrhoea when they returned home and drank the same water,” say district Health Education Officer Jagdish Jha.

Tests revealed that the presence of pathogens was dangerously high and that the only solution was to raise awareness about treating and purifying water before drinking.

Even without the flooding, Saptari District is one of the poorest in the country, with a majority of the population surviving as subsistence farmers or daily-wage agricultural labourers who make approximately $1 a day.

© UNICEF/2007/Ghimire
An investment of 50 cents can provide a bottle of water purification agent to provide safe drinking water for 45 days.

Preventing disease

UNICEF and ECHO partnered with two local nongovernmental organizations and the District Water Supply and Sanitation Division of Saptari, who in turn mobilised female community health volunteers like Munni Yadav; to educate parents about purifying or treating water before drinking, and proper hygiene and sanitation practices such as hand washing with soap.

“This year we have been able to prevent the outbreaks of diarrhoea among children as people are now treating water with purification agents before drinking,” says Deepak, the coordinator of SABAL, one of the two partner NGOs providing water purification agents and soap bars to the disadvantaged communities in Saptari.

The NGOs are also providing incentives and helping communities construct latrines and discouraging open defecation, which contributes to contamination of drinking water sources.

In the eight weeks since the project was launched, Deepak says that the number of people suffering from diarrhoea has decreased dramatically in villages where the project is underway.

“We try to make people understand that even a small investment like purchasing and using water purification agents or building a latrine can help them and their loved ones stay healthy and free from disease,” says Deepak.




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