Posted by Ranju Sharma
It is said that a spring regenerates itself near the bottom of this hill when there is an elongated period of drought. It sprouted five years ago when the monsoon was late. It has not rained at all since the beginning of the actual “rainy season” in Nepal this year and the heat is scorching in the far western district of Achham. The heat has been oppressive for the staff as they walk in the early morning to help set up the hospital. Unless it rains, it may be even worse for patients once our hospital services start because the lack of rain has made the days even hotter. Even worse, water is scarce in this region, making it even harder for people to access clean water until the delayed rains finally arrive.
The rice fields are dry. Some families have not been able to begin the annual rice planting that is supposed to feed them for the whole year. Only those fields near the river with good irrigation systems initially looked lush green with well grown rice paddies. Now even these healthier paddies have started losing their color. According to a recent news report, 50% of crops have already been destroyed because of the late monsoon and massive food shortage may occur in the region if the rains do not come soon.
Direct and indirect health hazards have also been observed. Some news reports have suggested that more than 20% of the Achhami population, or 50,000 people, have become ill due to the heat wave. The district hospital in Mangalsen has been seeing 500 patients a day suffering from diarrhea, typhoid, high fever, and dysentery. These illnesses, due to the prolonged heat wave, can overwhelm the limited health facilities in the area. Other illnesses may also increase because of the dustiness of the roads and fields. For example, patients with lung problems are recommended to stay away from the dust. Yet, the lack of rain has meant that the roads remain dusty for longer than normal. Thus, these patients are forced to walk on such roads despite their health problems.
This year, the monsoon in Nepal was estimated to start during the first week of June. We are reaching the end of this month and yet have seen no monsoon rains. Some experts have stated that the main factor preventing the monsoon from arriving in Nepal is the strong presence of the westerly winds. The monsoon originates in the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh and is then carried by easterly winds. Therefore, it cannot arrive until these westerly winds weaken. The westerly winds have been showing some signs of weakening. We are hoping for monsoon rains very soon, as this current drought is a crisis for the people and agricultural output of this region.