A one-year-old from Tallogaun in Simkot Rural Municipality-5 of Humla was taken to the district hospital on May 23 after she suffered from severe diarrhoea and vomiting for two days. She died in the course of treatment within a few hours.
“The girl was already in a critical condition when she was brought to the hospital. We could not save her,” said Roshan Khanal, a doctor involved in the infant’s treatment. Khanal said the girl suffered from diarrhoea and died after consuming contaminated water.
Tallogaun settlement of Simkot-5 is reeling under an acute shortage of drinking water. The villagers have no alternative but to drink unsafe and murky water from the local streams, which often leads to outbreaks of various water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, jaundice and typhoid.
“Before my daughter died of diarrhoea, I never knew that unsafe water could take one’s life. We did not know the dangers of drinking river water,” said the girl’s father Chin Bahadur Rawat.
According to health workers, various water-borne diseases are taking a toll in various districts of Karnali Province in the absence of public health awareness among the people.
“In several settlements of the province, it takes at least two hours to reach the nearest water spring so the villagers use the murky water of the local ponds or streams instead of going to the distant water sources,” said Dr Khanal.
According to him, the number of patients of various water-borne diseases has increased significantly in Humla and other districts of Karnali.
Access to safe drinking water is a serious issue in the entire Karnali Province. According to a survey conducted by the Municipal Association of Nepal in 2019, around 96.5 percent of people in Karnali do not have access to safe drinking water owing to geographical remoteness, lack of water treatment plants, shortage of drinking water and lack of public health awareness. The survey showed that only 3.5 percent of people have access to safe drinking water in the province.
According to the data available at the Provincial Health Directorate in Surkhet, out of the total number of people reporting ill in Humla in the current fiscal year, a total of 6.4 percent suffered from diarrhoeal diseases.
Premkala Rawat of Barekot Rural Municipality-4 in Jajarkot district hurried to the local health post after her two-year-old son suffered from diarrhoea two weeks ago. Premkala is cautious whenever any family members fall ill with diarrhoea.
“I lost my mother to diarrhoea in 2008. I panic now whenever any member of my family suffers from diarrhoea. I immediately rush them to the health post for treatment,” said Premkala, aged 18. “We know that diarrhoea and other diseases are caused by drinking unsafe water. But we are compelled to drink murky water from the stream due to the shortage of safe drinking water in our settlement.”
Diarrhoea and cholera that broke out from the then Khagenkot VDC spread across Jajarkot district in 2008. It claimed the lives of 350 people. As many as 47 people lost their lives due to diarrhoeal diseases in the same year.
According to the Provincial Health Directorate, around 500 people died of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases in the 10 districts of Karnali Province in the past decade.
“Many people die of diarrhoea in want of treatment. Most of the time, the patients are taken to the health institutions very late so we cannot save them,” said Dr KN Paudel at Karnali Provincial Hospital in Birendranagar. According to him, the number of patients suffering from diarrhoea, dysentery, typhoid, scabies and other water-borne diseases increases significantly from April to August.
Various settlements in Karnali reel under an acute shortage of safe drinking water with villagers relying on local streams and ponds for their water needs. “It takes around two hours to bring one jar of water from the nearest stream. It is difficult to manage drinking water in the villages,” said Maisara BK, 45, of Narayan Municipality-4 in Dailekh district.