In late April, disaster hit Nepal in the form of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. As of the writing of this letter, the death toll was approaching 6,000, and the United Nations estimated that more than 130,000 houses had been destroyed, with an additional 85,000 partially damaged—not to mention the countless businesses and multiple historical and cultural sites that have been damaged or reduced to rubble.
As is the case after any natural disaster, the people of Nepal were in need of shelter, food and drinking water. Although recovery efforts and delivery of emergency supplies got off to slow start—the New York Times reported that, in the week following the quake, people blocked traffic in the capital city of Katmandu to protest the lack of supplies, while another group in the Sangachowk area barricaded the road with tires to try and stop supply trucks—governments and aid groups from around the world mobilized to provide supplies and rescue survivors trapped in the rubble.
By the time you read this, the earthquake and recovery efforts will have faded from the headlines, but the earthquake victims will still be in need of aid—especially when it comes to drinking water. According to Kirsten Nicholson, a professor at Ball State University who has traveled to Nepal to study water quality and supply as part of the Himalayan Sustainability Initiative, the earthquake could have long-term effects on the country’s drinking water. “Movement along faults and fractures could open up new pathways for accessing cleaner groundwater, or it could shut the existing supplies down,” she said. “Many villages will likely notice a difference in their water supply. In fact, it is possible that many villages will notice a significant decrease in either water quality (as more surface water gets into the water supply) or flow rates. This is bad news, as it is currently the dry pre-monsoon season and it may be difficult to find new water sources.”
According to Nicholson, the recovery efforts will only further be hampered by the fact that Nepal relies on tourism for much of its economy, and people are cancelling their scheduled trips. “Right now, this is the correct thing to do, as tourists will be a drain on the already limited resources of the area,” she said. “So many people depend on tourism for their income in Nepal.”
Nicholson’s next research trip, planned for May, was cancelled due to the quake, but she plans to return next year, explaining that “this research is more important than ever.”
Recovery from natural disaster is not over as soon as we stop seeing it in the news. Lack of clean drinking water can be especially detrimental to recovery if waterborne disease spreads. Case in point: Haiti is still suffering from the cholera outbreak that erupted in the wake of its 2010 earthquake.
For more on Nepal and the effects of the earthquake on water supplies, read a full interview with Nicholson on page 50.