Nepal – a colossal task ahead

kathmandu07:41 Tuesday 28th April 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Let us travel to Nepal, a country of course that was shaken by an earthquake on Saturday. A lot of the worries are surrounding simply basic facilities, things like shelter, water, food supplies. And in fact a water engineer from Cambridgeshire who has lived and worked in Nepal says that water systems in place in the country were inadequate to start with. Regular aftershocks have made access to the smallest towns and villages especially dangerous and difficult. Rescue teams haven’t been able to reach many places, and where they have, some fear it may be too little too late. Well Jane and Simon Wilson-Howarth join me in the studio now. Good morning. Now you have lived in Nepal. You have worked in Nepal. What took you there Jane?
JANE WILSON-HOWARTH: Well Simon’s work took us there. I did some health and hygiene and diarrhoeal disease control work, and Simon was working on ..
SIMON WILSON-HOWARTH: I’ve been working there since the ’70s, first as a volunteer, working on water supply systems and irrigation systems, and then I’ve been back several times since then.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And just describe the country to us, the country that you knew.
SIMON WILSON-HOWARTH: Well it was a beautiful country. Kathmandu used to be a very small city, but it’s grown very rapidly recently. And with conflict and poverty, a lot of people have moved into the city, which has grown enormously, and overwhelmed the water supply, which has always been very very sparse, very erratic. And now with a disaster like this, the whole system has been completely overwhelmed, and there’s virtually no water supply to anyone in the city any more.
DOTTY MCLEOD: You lived there for over a decade. You must know people still out there. What have they told you about what it’s like there at the moment?

SIMON WILSON-HOWARTH: Well they seem to be bearing up incredibly well. They’re very resilient people and they’re coping, they’re surviving. But they’re absolutely devastated, and the water supply is certainly a major problem. The water supply has been completely disrupted. But so has power, and so has food. Food is getting scarce as well. So it’s an incredibly difficult situation for them
DOTTY MCLEOD: You must have been very worried Jane when you first heard about the earthquake on Saturday.
JANE WILSON-HOWARTH: Hugely, and I think we’ve both been imagining how awful it must be. Because it’s cold up there. It’s 4,000 feet. So the nights are cold, and there are storms forecast, so people are sleeping out, either completely outside, or under bits of plastic sheeting. There’s no sanitation facilities, so a friend of mine has been organising digging pit latrines, just to keep the sanitation system under control.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Have you heard from all of the people who you’ve hoped to?
JANE WILSON-HOWARTH: No. No. There are several people that we don’t know about. Obviously the last thing they’re probably thinking about is emailing friends, partly because there’s no electricity, and it’s difficult to get onto the internet. But they’ve probably got better things to do than think about casual correspondence really.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What needs to happen from now? Obviously emergency supplies are trying to make their way through, but in terms of the infrastructure, how do you even begin to start to put that right?
SIMON WILSON-HOWARTH: Well it’s a huge long term problem. The first challenge is just to get access and get emergency supplies in. But then there’ll have to be complete reconstruction of all the water supplies, all the infrastructure, which was already bad. There was already a programme of reconstruction going on. But a lot of that will be damaged, and they’ll have to start again.
JANE WILSON-HOWARTH: Another problem is worrying about the epidemics that will undoubtedly start in the lead-up to the monsoon, which starts in the middle of June. There’s usually a lot of diarrhoeal disease, dysentery, typhoid. And in this current situation it will be a lot lot worse. There’ll be people who are starving, who will be much more at risk of getting sick. So I’m afraid I’m very pessimistic in the short term. There’s going to be huge continuing loss of life, and the poor hospitals which were already creaking at the seams will be struggling. I think the road is now open into Kathmandu, but it was closed for a while. There’s a lot of good efforts going in there, but it’s a hugely difficult situation.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So much to do, isn’t there, and already figures above 4,000 people thought to have died. Jane and Simon, thank you very much for coming in this morning. We appreciate it. That’s Jane and Simon Wilson-Howarth, Simon who is a water engineer, and Jane who is a doctor.
JANE WILSON-HOWARTH: Can I just put in one plea for just perhaps donating to the charities, because I think there’s a lot of money required out there. All the big charities, Oxfam, Medecins sans Frontiers have all got open access to donations. So if anybody wants to give money.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Absolutely. And you will be hearing in fact at the end of the show this morning an appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee, telling you exactly how you can donate.