Most handwashing stations installed in Valley last year are not in working conditionAuthorities say they are working to repair and restore such stations but even after four days since the commitment, the situation remains the same.
Maya Shrestha, 53, leaves her rented room at Kalanki early in the morning to sell flowers at Bhadrakali temple. Fearing the second wave of Covid-19, she always wears a mask throughout the day but as the ringtone of her cell phone or the media appeals she can’t wash her hands frequently.
“I am very aware that I have to wash my hands with soap after touching something, but where is the water and the soap?” questioned Shrestha, who has been selling flowers at Bhadrakali for over two decades. She says she can’t afford to buy hand sanitizer.
Just to the right of her flower stall, which is located beside the main entrance to the Bhadrakali shrine, there is a yellow water tank with a capacity to hold 1,500 litres of water, but it stands empty. The water tank sitting on a stand has a liquid soap holder to its left and there is a water and soap dispenser with a foot pedal, but these do not work. The white sink has cracked and is filled with dirt.
“This water tank was installed by the Nepal Army last year when the Covid-19 pandemic was peaking. But now although we hear the pandemic is getting worse again, neither there is water nor any soap, and the Army is indifferent towards it,” said Shrestha. She showed a Coca-Cola jumbo bottle which she refills from the tap on the premises of the Bhadrakali temple and washes her hands. “But I don’t use soap here,” said Shrestha.
This is not an isolated case. Last year just before and after the government announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, several organisations including governmental and non-governmental ones, clubs, local wards and private companies had installed hand washing stations all across the Valley, but now as the country is on the brink of a second wave of Covid-19, most of these handwashing stations have either vanished or are defunct.
Nepal Army spokesperson Brigadier General Santosh Ballav Paudel, meanwhile, said his office was not aware that the handwashing station at the entrance to the Bhadrakali shrine was broken. "We will definitely repair it and make it workable," he said thanking the Post for the notification.
He said this on Tuesday. Even by Friday morning the tank had no water.
Nepal on Friday reported 5 Covid-19-related fatalities with 2,449 new cases. The Health Ministry’s report shows that in the past 24 hours the Kathmandu Valley recorded 940 new infections; of which 760 cases in Kathmandu, 106 in Lalitpur and 74 in Bhaktapur.
Although the World Health Organisation and public health experts have emphasised handwashing as a way to prevent virus infection, and the public have been requested to wear facemasks and maintain physical distance, these measures have evidently been neglected.
Ashok Bajracharya, administrative official at the Sankata Club, said the club in collaboration with the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s Ward No 22 had last year installed 35 handwashing stations in the ward. “But now we see many tanks have been stolen, and the remaining are in a sorry state. If the city is ready to collaborate again, we will repair the broken ones and install new ones where they have been stolen,” said Bajracharya.
“Although the risk of disease transmission is increasing by the day, people have stopped wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. So I don’t think they will start washing hands again after we fix the broken hand-washing stations,” said Bajracharya.
Last year, in the second week of August, the Post had published a story on handwashing stations that didn’t have any water. For the story, the Post had visited Jawalakhel, Lagankhel, Teku, Tripureshwar, New Road and Basantapur. But this time, except for Jawalakhel, the handwashing stations in other places had either disappeared or were defunct.
Last year, after the imposition of the nationwide lockdown, Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited had installed 80 handwashing stations in different parts of the Valley in partnership with the local councils, but within a year most of the stations had vanished and a few remaining were in a sorry state.
When the Post contacted Milan Kumar Shakya, acting manager at the KUKL, on Monday to inquire about the sorry state of the remaining handwashing stations, he said his office would repair the stations within a week
“We know that the second wave of the pandemic is already here, so we will start repairing and installing washing stations within this week,” said Shakya.
As per the KUKL’s estimates, each hand washing station with a plastic tank, an iron stand, and a steel sink with a faucet and pipes costs around Rs 30,000. So installing 80 such stations will cost around Rs 2.4 million.
Narayan Thapa, 39, a pedestrian whom the Post met at New Road, had his own view about the broken hand washing stations. “The authorities make a one-time investment on amenities and doesn’t care about their maintenance, that’s why no handwashing station is functional.”
“The problem lies with the citizens also, because they think public property is nobody’s property that’s why most of the washing stations are defunct. People do not have civic sense,” said Thapa, a resident of Bagdole, Lalitpur.
Even virologists and doctors say, handwashing stations play a vital role in slowing down the spread of the virus.
“Not everyone can afford to buy sanitizers. If handwashing stations are installed, such people can wash their hands with soap,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.
“Besides, many people especially those who are travelling may not have easy access to soap and water. Such people would find these public handwashing stations useful,” said Pun.
Meanwhile, Hari Kunwar, the chief of the Health Division at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, said his office is working to dispatch soap and water at 19 various hand washing centers in the city, but the City had not started any work on this till Friday.