The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Disease fears in the aftermath of Nepal disaster

Struggle to provide shelter and sanitation to prevent cholera, dysentery and other water-borne conditions

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 05 May 2015

A lack of shelter, contaminated water and poor sanitation could lead to cholera, dysentery and other water-borne diseases in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, aid agencies are warning.

Calling for immediate action to tackle the problem, the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) an umbrella organisation of 12 charities, said in some areas people are living and defecating in the open. A spokesman said that cholera is already endemic in Nepal, so an outbreak would not be unprecedented. Last year 600 people caught cholera and in 2009 a major outbreak affected more than 300,000 people.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake is now known to have killed more than 7,000 people and injured more than 10,000. More than 4,000 aid workers from around the world have been helping with relief and rescue operations.

DEC member agencies have been working to provide better emergency shelter and to ensure drinking water and sanitation are a part of the emergency response. Trucks of water are being delivered to camps to provide drinking water for displaced people, establishing toilets in camps and distributing family hygiene kits and providing information on the importance of hand-washing.

British rescuers have also been playing a key role in the relief effort which has followed the Nepal earthquake. Among the work by the UK International Search and Rescue team, deployed by the Department for International Development, a four-year-old girl with a serious leg injury was taken to a field hospital for treatment and a young boy's broken arm was treated using a plastic bottle as a splint.

The scale and cost of this aspect of the response are still being assessed but it was clear action was needed now before the rainy season starts in June, a DEC spokesman said.

Glynnis Brooks, head of health, water, sanitation and hygiene at the British Red Cross, one of the DEC member agencies, said: "Water and sanitation remain critical at this stage of the disaster, as those affected are generally much more susceptible to illness and death from disease.

"Given the scale of the damage to infrastructure near the epicentre of the quake, rehabilitation of water supplies will take time, so it is essential that humanitarian agencies assist the government by providing people affected with clean, safe water supplies."

Oxfam, another DEC member, has been providing water and sanitation in four camps in the Kathmandu Valley and Action Aid has distributed disinfectant kits for cleaning to 2,500 people in Khokana and Paanga just outside Kathmandu. Care has been delivering jerry cans and hygiene items including soap, and is also distributing water purification tablets to people who are particularly susceptible to water-borne illness such as diarrhoea.

The DEC appeal has so far raised more than £33m. Donation can be made via the DEC website. The UK government has matched the first £5m of public donations to the DEC and committed a further £17.8m in humanitarian aid, making it the largest international donor with a total contribution of £22.8m.

Picture credit: Dutourdumonde Photography / Shutterstock.com

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470