Bhaktapur, Nepal – Hema Sulu always knew that she needed to wash her hands with soap and water during critical times such as before eating or preparing meals, after using toilet and before feeding her children. However, during the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, she had to forego hand washing and other good water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) behaviours.
“Everyone was disturbed,’ the 29-year-old mother of two said. “We couldn’t pay attention to other issues besides food and shelter.”
The earthquake and its numerous aftershocks damaged thousands of homes displacing millions of people, who took refuge in makeshift shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulins in crowded displacement camps. In order to ensure that the affected population has access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation and are practicing good hygiene behaviours, UNICEF, along with partners ENPHO and Oxfam, launched an emergency WASH response programme.
As part of the initiative, female community health volunteers (FCHVs) went door-to-door in Hema’s community in Lakila tole in Jhaukhel delivering lifesaving messages on household level water purification methods, critical periods of hand washing, proper use of latrines, waste management and many more.
“After FCHV visited our house repeatedly, the messages touched our heart and we started to adopt them in our daily life,” she said.
Since then clean toilets with a bucket of water close by, segregated biodegradable and non-degradable waste materials, and clean drinking water stored in vessels with lids have become a common site in Hema’s house. Even her husband has turned a new leaf.
‘I had asked my husband to replace the broken water filter many time before,” she said “It was only after the FCHV’s visits that he brought home a new filter.”
Hema also added that thanks to the efforts by FCHVs and the emergency WASH response programme, not a single person in her community suffered from diarrhoea last monsoon.
“The program was not only effective in raising awareness about WASH to prevent the epidemic during the emergency but it also contributed a lot to change the attitude of people regarding WASH,” Hema said.