Updated May 7, 2015
On Saturday, April 25, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, with additional tremors continuing throughout the last three days. Over 7,000 are confirmed dead, with many thousands more injured and/or without adequate food, water, or shelter. At times like this, the first question for many is, “How can I help?” For those who want to help, here’s what you need to know now.
There are four phases of disaster relief. We are still in the chaotic first phase when needs on the ground are still being assessed and the primary focus is on immediate search and rescue operations. This is extremely challenging work that requires the specialized expertise of first responders who have experience in similar disasters, and/or have other expertise already on the ground that can be mobilized immediately. In Nepal, with only one airport, continued after shocks, and roads and communication systems in disarray, we don’t even know the full extent of the situation and coordination is critical. Our team is in contact with or tracking information from a network of nonprofits/NGO’s, funding organizations, intermediaries, and colleagues in or with direct connections to Nepal. These include The Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Accountability Lab, The Center for International Disaster Information, Disaster Accountability Project, and the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, among others. As a clearer picture emerges of how philanthropy can help, we will update this post over the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, here are three tips to keep in mind to ensure your giving has the greatest possible impact.
1. Resist the impulse to donate items; send money of any amount instead. Many people are moved to donate items such as food, clothes, or blankets. While well-intentioned, such donations frequently don’t match what is actually needed and can risk taxing precious logistics and storage capacity.
2. Think top down and bottom up: The large, international aid organizations and specialized first responders can tap into global networks and supply chains that allow them to bring resources quickly and at high volume. For example, Oxfam reported dispatching five tons of water and sanitation supplies from its international warehouse in Barcelona, Spain within 72 hours of the earthquake, as well as supplies overland from India. (sources: Boston Herald, Bloomberg). Medicins San Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has sent in medical teams with a ‘rapid interventional surgical kit’ to perform needed emergency operations during this critical period (source: MSF website). Large international aid organizations like Save the Children, World Vision, and Unicef which have experience in disaster relief and were already doing work on the ground in Nepal before the earthquake struck, are particularly well-positioned to act.
Although they take longer to identify, local organizations have knowledge and networks that allow them to quickly assess changing priorities and get help to many of the most vulnerable groups faster. For example, Kathmandu Living Labs is using open street mapping tools to map the response and the affected areas (they are an Accountability Lab partner). Their latest update can be found here. Several youth organizations and movements are also mobilizing volunteers to give blood, support families, trace relatives, and more. These include Ayon and Bibeksheel Nepali, a local youth-led political movement that has members in all 11 affected districts (source: Accountability Lab – direct communication). When giving to local organizations, donors will do best to find a trusted source with on-the-ground knowledge that can vouch for for an organization’s legitimacy and efficacy; in a situation where international funds are flowing in, many new organizations may suddenly appear on the horizon, and not all will be legitimate.
Both international and local organizational capacity is critical; the latter even more so, given the third tip.
3. Help is needed way beyond the first stage: After the critical first 72 hours, attention will shift from a focus on search, rescue, and emergency medical care towards addressing the immediate needs and security of survivors – especially in light of Nepal’s wet season which is expected to begin in a short 5 weeks. Even after these immediate, basic needs are met, Nepal will need continued support to rebuild and recover, particularly given the impact the earthquake has had on the country’s important tourism sector. Each phase brings different needs and different players who will be positioned to provide the best help. Although giving in disaster situations tends to decline after the first few days, often funders can have the biggest impact by paying attention long after the initial headlines fade. With this in mind, several organizations, including the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Geneva Global, and Global Giving have set up pooled funds, which can channel funds to local grantees once medium and longer term needs have become clearer. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy specifically does not disburse funds until after doing an on-the-ground needs assessment three months post-disaster. Of course, many international development organizations as well as local groups are likely to play key roles in the long term recovery process, and some of the funds they gather in the short term may be used in longer term work.