Due to a combination of factors, such as lower rainfall and rising temperatures caused by climate change, rampant construction of poor-designed roads, deforestation, overpopulation, overconsumption and inadequate maintenance of pipes and wells, Nepal’s mountains are suffering water shortages.
Roads are supposed to improve access of patients to hospitals, but have themselves become killers in two ways. Haphazard construction triggers landslides that endanger lives, and roads are blocked, delaying patients like Kalpana BK from reaching hospitals in time.
These two recent examples of a landslide and water shortage in Achham reflect the adverse impacts of worsening environmental conditions on our health system and their possibly devastating impact on people who are already ill and often vulnerable. So-called ‘natural disasters’ actually have a strong connection to human decision-making and are frequently caused by reckless road construction that does not pay sufficient attention to environmental factors.
Navin Bhatt, staff physician at Bayalpata Hospital, says environmental degradation can undermine health care delivery: “Deforestation is one of the causes of landslides, which lead to roads being blocked, hampering the transportation of people who are ill to the hospital. Rising temperatures are resulting in more snake bite cases. The quality of healthcare services is affected by environmental pollution.”
The urgency to recognise that health and the environment are strongly connected is growing worldwide. To raise awareness about the issue and motivate grassroots solutions to these problems, the World Health Organisation announced in its ‘Ten threats to Global Health in 2019’ that air pollution and climate change are the number one public health threats.
Nepal Government officials at all levels, health workers, environmental experts and development partners need to collaborate with advocates for ecological balance. Only when we work hand-in-hand rather than in isolation, can we take tangible steps to prevent environmental damage and restore healthy and resilient ecosystems.
Bikash Gauchan is a doctor in Achham. Nathaniel Uchtmann is a medical doctor and lawyer.