Goat by the door Janakpur, Nepal

2012-02 Slow progress and Fixit for Nepal?

So this is my third week here in Janakpur. We are creeping slowly and steadily up with the study but reaching the point at which it becomes increasingly difficult. In this study to aim to get representative values for the entire range of body weights of Janakpur’s children – so… rather than proportional representation we are recruiting children equally throughout the range. The upshot of this is that the extremes of weight, the very small and very large children, are much more difficult to recruit as they are, according to the normal distribution, much fewer in number. We are currently chasing schools and children who need to become recalled from the main study but we’re not having as much luck as with our initial forays last week where we were concerted effort able to recruit 140 children over several dedicated days (of which about 90 so far have turned up). At the close of play today we need to recruit about another 30 children – 30% of our sample… Frustrating considering the speed at which we launched out the gates (we did the first 40% in ONE day!)…but that is the nature of the beast with this kind of study.

Jonathan left yesterday back to Kathmandu and is spending his last night in the lovely Rana Palace, the Shankar hotel… relaxing somewhat before heading back – a flying visit that was very helpful for us on the study although he’s set the bench high on what we have to achieve (vis a vis above). Hopefully Delan has had some useful input on his Ph.D. – from what I could see from their conversations Jonathan unearthed another barrow full of references to chase -something I remember fondly (now – though at the time it was perhaps more of a cause for a headache!) during my BSc year with him. On the flip side he gave Good reports of both the study and of Janakpur – although I’m sure he’d prefer it if there were a few more mountains around the place!

Elsewhere in Janakpur things are shaping up on Barhabiga – there is now a roster of poles driven into the ground on the northern side which I anticipate will evolve into awnings and perhaps food tents or accommodation for the upcoming festival. I’ll be interested to see what the waste output will be from this festival – specifically the plastics and other nonbiodegradable substances. The area is already strewn with rubbish so I’ll be very surprised if it is not more so in the wake of this event.

I don’t know if it is related to the festival itself but they have also been removing the trees which stand on the outskirts of the field. Actually, the other day as I was walking past the team of men as well as a group at the base of the tree soaring who were taking down the tree was quite a spectacular sight I captured it on film to a took a few photos as well. It seems a shame somehow as Janakpur is really a very wet city…it would seem to make a lot of sense in my mind to have trees planted not only to absorb water but also to stave off the aggressive heat in the summer.

Further strikes are affecting the region with many transport services haulted for up to two weeks. For those families we are trying to recruit who live in outlying regions this makes it next to impossible to get here. I dread to think what a rickshaw from the border with India would cost and how long it would take! I guess that Striking could be jokingly viewed as something of a national sport for the Nepali people but really it is indicative of the disarray that things are in. I’ve been creating “fix-it” list mentally for the Nepali government. Which runs along the lines of :

Electricity – the number one point of progress for Nepal as far as I can see – seems crazy that country with the highest mountains in the world can’t generate enough electricity from hydroelectric power. I have heard from an energy consultant in Kathmandu that 52 projects are ready to be built which would increase capacity of the country from 10 arbitrary units per person to over 100 arbitrary units. It’s hard to articulate how many problems this would offer solutions to. I cannot see any convincing arguments against this many. In my limited time visiting the country access to fuel of all sorts has been a major topic of discussion and has featured as the main point in several strikes. I don’t suspect this will change any time soon. In Kathmandu, cars literally queue for days to get petrol. A continuous power supply would enable manufacturing to increase, schools and hospitals to be open and to be run with improved services and on a national scale make available electric cooking devices which could potentially save women looking after their families many hours a day, which could very well be more usefully spent looking after the children, gaining an education themselves or even God forbid pursuing some leisure activities. I just don’t understand why the country with such a possibility has such problems with power. Throughout the governmental echelons how can any issue supplant this for its import and potential great capacity to improve whole of Nepal?

Sewerage, sanitation and waste systems infrastructure – investment in sanitation infrastructure would improve quality of life universally. This would probably have to be supplemented with a national re-education program in disposal of rubbish. Although by no means unique to Nepal… (vis a vis India) concepts of when and how to dispose of rubbish for individuals seem ludicrously absent from all echelons of society. Here in Janakpur rubbish is literally jettisoned into the street or swept to a safe comfortable distance…say 2 m away from your front door. Periodically someone takes initiative to sweep this street flotsam into a pile where after day or so…After a day or so of being picked over by dogs, cattle and pigs someone sets it on fire as a means of disposal. On my walk to work there are several allotments which are so thick with rubbish as to take on the appearance of a complete wasteland. Coupled with the open sewers on the side of each road the primordial stench that emanates from certain places on my journey is at times overpowering. I’m thankful that I’m not here for the boiling summer.

Transport infrastructure?

Education for women – this is absolutely fundamental…

National Health Service?

etc. etc… Tonnes to improve here… tonnes… the challenge is doing it all in a way which suits Nepal – and is led from within…

Janakpur finds itself in the 3rd poorest region of nepal – with a multidimensional poverty index equivalent to something like the lowest of the 8 ranked countries in the world.

In other news Suzanne has had a hellish couple of days, having fallen ill and suffering setbacks with her project. My phone had slipped into “Offline” so I did not get her texts of appeal over the last few days. She reported night sweats and hallucinations of people standing around her bed. Not a great shape to be in for certain.

With regards to her work Suzanne’s project focuses on indoor air pollution. This involves going to people’s houses and coordinating with families so that she can set up her equipment within close proximity of the main cooking stove. The huge variety of fuel types are used here, from wood to kerosene etc. of particular interest however is the use of dried cow dung which is burnt after being prepared straw and dried out in the open son. I saw a great number of installations of this done fuel on my trips to the villages last week including watching as we sped on past women preparing it by hand. It’s a curious thing the main proponent through preparation for the family, the woman, also spends a great deal of her time manually handling animal waste before going on to prepare food. As Suzanne says this place is something of an ideal litmus test for the hygiene hypothesis. Suzanne’s work is not being without mishap – as she works closely with families the various idiosyncrasies of environment she is working in that particular day can substantially affect the result she gets. For example today she reported back that after having set up the equipment she turned to see family goat launching himself across the room at one of her monitors, knocking i it flying. As she scrambled to pick up the pieces together then proceeded to chew on the extension cable power in her equipment, luckily disconnected from the mains at this stage otherwise I highly suspect that’s Delan and I would have had mutton curry tonight, and completely disabling experiment.

Goat by the door Janakpur, Nepal

Other issues she has had include families carefully covering up her equipment so that it doesn’t get dusty – despite the fact that she has specifically put her equipment there to measure the dust in the environment! With blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin she is an immense curiosity for the local children and has to work whilst being crowded by between 20 and 40 people daily. Sounds incredibly fun and interesting but I can imagine incredibly stressful with regards to try to get decent quality data!

Bit of rambling post this evening but something which reflects growing insight that I’m gaining to the functioning of this interesting country. It perplexes me that people who are so endearingly genuine could be on a national level in such apparent disarray. It certainly makes me feel glad that I enjoyed the basic privileges of a Western life without complaint generally.

I’m falling steadily towards unconsciousness as I write so I’ll conclude here and follow-on with some fresh stories tomorrow.

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