COVID-19 mitigation measures in Nepal have largely revolved around raising awareness in disease transmission and introducing hand hygiene, contact-free and distancing measures. In the areas where SNV in Nepal works, the team has been deploying its technical expertise in WASH behaviour change communication and facility design/installation to support local governments in dealing with the crisis. As the pandemic continues to unravel, the team has had to also rethink some of its methods, which also meant contributing to immediate relief efforts.
In support of government initiatives, SNV has been engaged in micro-level community messaging coupled with broadcasting messages via local radio stations, loudspeaker cars or hoarding boards. To aid healthcare facilities and communities in practising handwashing with soap, foot-operated disability-inclusive handwashing stations – based on a design developed by SNV – were installed across the country.
SNV’s WASH donor partners – the governments of Australia and the Netherlands – have been key in enabling SNV’s team to respond to changing contexts, and to adapt plans as demanded by the times. With support from the Netherlands government-funded WASH SDG programme, 60 handwashing stations are being installed in health care facilities (including 26 stations in Birendranagar). Under the Australian government’s Water for Women WASH programme, the SNV project Inclusive and sustainable rural water supply services in Nepal has set up 30 handwashing stations in health care facilities, in addition to 100 smaller public handwashing stations for the use of communities.
By mid-June 2020, restrictions to movement within and into Nepal have been eased, 2.5 months after the country went on strict lockdown on 24 March. Unfortunately, during the second half of June, the number of confirmed cases doubled, with the government reporting a total of 13,500 cases (compared to the 15 June count of 6,200 cases).
The provincial checkpoint in Birendranagar, Surkhet district
Despite restrictions to movement, several points of entry running along the Nepal-India border remained open throughout the lockdown, mainly for returning migrant workers in India.
To manage potential coronavirus spread, returnees are processed and undergo health checks in these points of entry. Processing could take anywhere between a few hours to a full day. Once completed, returnees spend 14 days in quarantine centres set up by the Government of Nepal in all districts. As of 1 July, 48,000 people were staying in quarantine centres across the country. Only after the quarantine days are met fully can returnees then reunite with their communities. Reunification, however, is not instantaneous. From the quarantine centres, it is likely that returnees will need to cross several provincial checkpoints before they reach home.
This holds true for the provincial checkpoint in Birendranagar city, capital of Surkhet district, Karnali province – a partner city of SNV’s WASH SDG programme. Home to nearly 50,000 people, the municipality approached SNV’s district representative in early June with a request to support mitigation measures in the crossing point from Province 5 to the Karnali province. Every day, hundreds or thousands of people would traverse this provincial checkpoint. It was estimated that almost 45,000 people – mostly Nepali migrant workers in India – have crossed in June alone, many on foot. Due to the overwhelming numbers of people crossing, access to water, sanitation and hygiene has become a serious concern. In particular, the municipality identified drinking water supply as an immediate need.
SNV’s water supply drive
Within the limits of SNV’s available resources, the team mobilised nearly 3,000 litres of bottled water for swift dispatch to the Birendranagar provincial checkpoint to assist returnees immediately. In consultation with the municipality, SNV routed its drinking water distribution via the local branch of the Red Cross, whose volunteers were already onsite.
But needs ‘on the ground’ shifted. After distributing almost 1,000 litres of water at the provincial checkpoint, the Red Cross saw traffic slowing down. As new arrivals entered nearby quarantine centres, the pressure on the centres’ limited supply of drinking water became more acute. Because of this, SNV, the municipality and the Red Cross agreed to divert the remaining 2,000 litres of water to two nearby quarantine centres (situated at the Lower Secondary School Kanshipur, Lekbesi-11 and at the Secondary School Jahade, Lekbesi-9). Drinking water was dispatched to these quarantine centres by end June.
SNV’s drinking water supply drive though modest, has addressed an urgent need. Said Mr Kamal Buda, a returnee from India who was heading back to his place in Jumla district, which is almost 235 km of mountainous roads away from Birendranagar, ‘I did not get proper food or safe water for a long time, and I’m not sure when I will reach home. But, I’m happy to be receiving safe water from you.’
Prepared by: Gian Melloni with input from Shah, Lek Bikram, Man kumari Sapkota and Anjani Abella
Photos: Banner, handwashing facility and hoarding board photos by Pramewshwar Jha | Drinking water supply photos by SNV in Nepal staff