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Project September 16, 2015

In Nepal, A Viral Epidemic Followed by Massive Earthquakes

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Image by Pierre Kattar. Nepal, 2015.
Image by Pierre Kattar. Nepal, 2015.

Sarita Murmur was five months pregnant when she collapsed while working in a field in eastern Nepal. She was rushed to a hospital where she was diagnosed with Hepatitis E. Within weeks, the waterborne virus infected five thousand people, killing over a dozen, including Sarita. The cause was a broken water pipe. With no sewage infrastructure, sewage seeped into the town's water supply, infecting anyone who drank tap water.

A year later, earthquakes devastated Nepal's already fragile infrastructure. In cities like Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, thousands sought shelter in tent camps, which were supposed to be temporary. But after a second major earthquake followed by dozens of after shocks, people were afraid to return home. Health experts warn that toilets in some tent camps are health hazards. Some are simple holes in the ground. They worry that Nepal's strong summer monsoons and floods could move feces from those toilets and into broken water pipes, likely increasing the spread of diseases like cholera, dysentery and Hepatitis E.

In villages throughout central Nepal, residents became isolated from aid groups. Many built their own shelters and found their own water. The extent of damage to their land is unknown. They fear that heavy rains could seep into the cracks in the earth below them wash away their villages and homes. In this project, video journalist Pierre Kattar documents the the difficult decision they face: Should they stay or should they go? He looks at the devastating consequences of the country's fragile and wholly inadequate water infrastructure.

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