Field Note #9: My Observations of Nepal Part 1 - David Cuthbert
Over the past six weeks, Wine To Water, has been working in Nepal with our team of local Nepalese men and women in an effort to get clean water to many who desperately need it. A recent graduate student at Appalachian State University, Suresh Niraula, is leading Wine To Water’s Nepali team on the ground. Since we began operations in Nepal six weeks ago, Wine To Water has been able to provide clean water solutions to over 20,000 people. Although that is a lot of people and we are glad to have helped to that level, it is clear that clean water is not an issue for just a few in Nepal, but rather, it is an historical issue, compounded and made significantly worse by the recent earthquakes.
I had the recent opportunity to personally travel to Nepal to check in with our team, see what they were dealing with, and help evaluate the way forward, through relief and into recovery. I can say that I went there naively thinking I had an understanding of the situation by having read or watched as much of the news reports as I could prior to traveling. Nepal was not the first crisis zone I was entering, so I have had some experience in these areas. After a quick assessment when I arrived, the fact is, I had grossly underestimated the actual impacts of these earthquakes. And, oh, by the way, the aftershocks continue regularly even now.
During my time there, I had the opportunity to see hundreds of square miles of Kathmandu Valley where most of the population in Nepal lives. I toured or worked in places such as Ghanpedada, Dharmastali, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Sankhu, Kavresthali, Bungmati, and others. Yes, we spent a lot of time on foot, motorcycle, in cars, cabs, and buses. After each village/city/town visited, I thought I had seen it all, that is, until I got to the next one. With each community we evaluated the statistics and conditions, and the term, “90% of homes and buildings were destroyed in this town” was regularly mentioned.
In order to conduct our water work, we often had to climb over or between piles of bricks that had been the homes of families of a vibrant and proud culture just a few short weeks ago. In one case, our team had the opportunity to stand on a very high overlook of Kathmandu Valley as we were traveling between sites. There was a town directly below us and we had a bird’s eye view down into it. I took a picture of what I saw but have actually chosen not to include it in this article. I made this decision because I do not think the picture I took comes anywhere close to what you see and feel as you look down on this scene. I do not want to do the town the injustice of presenting something that does not adequately reflect the magnitude of their reality; from the vantage point where I stood it looks like an explosion of bricks that would span many city blocks in the U. S. They fill yards, roads, and lots, and beyond a few pieces of standing framing, it is impossible to tell where some of the homes stood. It is truly surreal.
Now, although the pride of culture and community is still obvious everywhere I visited, it is clear people in many cases have lost everything, including family members. There is reported over 8,500 dead in all, and some still missing. More bodies were found and recovered as I was in Nepal over the last several weeks- six weeks after the earthquake. For thousands, they are completely starting over. This was conveyed to our team as we sat and had tea with many of them, per their continuous invite, after we would complete some work with the local townspeople. Despite the destruction, the hospitality I personally experienced everywhere was endless and humbling.
In regards to water, as I mentioned earlier, it is a massive problem for Nepal. In many cases, water is accessible but should not be consumed by anyone due to a lack of, or the destruction to, water and sanitation infrastructures. I personally witnessed folks dipping buckets below the city street to draw their house water from street and sewer runoff. But, this is in fact the drinking water available. People often boil the water but I cannot imagine it is enough.
I think it’s important to pause here to mention, that although I am specifically writing about Nepal as a follow up to my recent trip, these same situations and scenes exist all over the world. Unfortunately, for Wine To Water and other water organizations, there is enough work to keep us busy for many years. Natural disasters, such as these earthquakes in Nepal, only heighten the focus of a global situation. And, although the world’s water crisis is larger than can be resolved quickly, it requires incredible urgency for those who are suffering at this very hour.
With regard to Nepal specifically, and in the magnitude of the situation, I had to ask myself many times if our efforts, the financial resources being spent there, and the risk of safety to our team was worth the impact we could make. The answers to these questions came quickly in each town I walked into. Although the scope of the disaster was clear, what was also clear as we often worked at the individual level was, we cannot help everyone, but we can help some. And, sometimes, in the end that has to be enough.
During my travels, I also asked myself many times if it seems the country has moved from relief to recovery. In my personal opinion, to answer this question with an absolute in either regard would be incorrect. The answer to this question depends on what particular villages you happen to be standing in at the moment you ask it. Some were looking for work, while others were still looking for the remains of family members. Therefore, Wine To Water will continue to be flexible in how we approach our work there. But, as long as we can continue to generate financial support for Nepal, we will address the water issues like our other territories, as holistically as possible, one community or person at a time, with a heavy emphasis on training an education. Projects like this are unfortunately plentiful.
In closing to Part I of my thoughts on my time in Nepal, I would like to make mention of another observation. Despite the pain, loss, and destruction, I saw and feel much hope for Nepal. In my observations, amongst the rubble, people have begun taking steps forward. My prayers will be with them and I hope very much for my friends during this difficult time.