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Almost two years to the day after I left Nepal it has been struck by the devastating earthquake that I and so many of my colleagues there had feared. I’m filled with much sorrow by the reports and images that are coming out of Kathmandu and remote mountain areas struck by the quake. Many highly skilled and committed individuals and organisations, such as the National Society for Earthquake Technology, have been working hard for many years to prepare the country and its people for this earthquake and I’m sure that their efforts have saved and will continue to save lives as this disaster unfolds. The international response is also scaling up and I sincerely hope that lessons of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and other disasters have been learned by the international community as it rushes to provide aid. I have seen many on social media wondering how they can help from afar so I have put together this short guide on how to donate, volunteer online and some things to think about if you’re considering going to Nepal.
For comprehensive updates on the earthquake and the response check out the following websites:
- IRIN News
- The coverage of the BBC and The Guardian (which as of publication was continuing its rolling coverage) have also been excellent. Local english language news sites like eKantipur and the Nepali Times are posting infrequent updates.
Many aid organisations have set up international and national appeals. For ease and to eliminate any international transaction fees search for appeals made by organisations in your own country. Search Nepal earthquake appeal in your web search engine. Here are some international options:
- Paypal has launched a donation drive, where you can donate to a number of organisations and Paypal will not charge any processing fees.
- iTunes has also set up a donation page
- Access the appeal for your national Red Cross/Red Crescent society through this page.
As some of the largest organisations present in Nepal who specifically work in disaster response AND have an international network so you can donate in your own country I recommend the Red Cross/Red Crescent, UNICEF, Oxfam and Plan International. It is also possible to donate directly to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, which is distributed through UN agencies. Some news and government organisations have been compiling lists of appeals. Here are some that I have come across, let me know if you’re aware of others:
Please send cash and not goods. It’s really important that relief goods are targeted at the needs of the affected people and culturally appropriate. An added factor in this disaster is that Kathmandu Airport is a critical supply bottleneck – every piece of cargo space is absolutely precious and needs to contain only the most urgent needs. Save your old clothes and tins of corned beef and send cash instead.
Be careful who you donate to, especially small NGOs who you hear about through social media. Nepal has more than 30,000 non-government organisations and while many of them do excellent work many others are thinly veiled money-making scams. I would also recommend avoiding those religious NGOs who mix proselytising with aid delivery – which is unlikely to be appreciated in a predominantly Hindu and Buddhist nation. Do your homework before you donate to an organisation you haven’t heard of before. Check out their rating on a website like Charity Navigator or do some research on the Center for International Disaster Information website. Funding needs are not only immediate but will run into the months and years ahead as the shift from response to recovery and reconstruction happens. Hold a fund-raiser in the weeks or months ahead and donate the funds to one of the many appeals.
Digital humanitarian volunteering is growing in importance and beginning to be used more and more by humanitarian agencies on the ground in assessing needs and planning their response. Some organisations like the Standby Taskforce have a small cadre of more permanent volunteers (which you can join for future operations) but there are other efforts that almost anyone can contribute to:
MicroMappers – Classifying tweets and images
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap – Producing and updating digital maps
DigitalGlobe Tomnod – Identifying damage on satellite images
Volunteer on Social Media
Sharing information on social media about where to donate, how to volunteer online and initiatives for locating missing people (such as Google Person Finder, ICRC’s Family Links and hotline phone numbers for foreign affairs departments and embassies) can help. Dispelling rumours, for example about aftershocks, is also very important particularly if you know people in the region. Unfortunately the disaster has brought many disturbed individuals out of the woodwork on social media who are posting disgustingly offensive things about the disaster that do not bear repeating. Don’t engage with these sick individuals. Downvote, report and block them instead.
Reconsider Unskilled Volunteering
I understand that many people want to rush in themselves to do what they can. However, for most this may not be a great idea. The majority of the international teams heading to Nepal are made up of specialist rescue workers, disaster medicine experts, logistics and resource management experts, specialists in disaster needs and recovery assessment etc. to bolster local experts and help get resources to Nepalese workers and volunteers on the ground. International rescue teams are required to be self-sufficient, which is very important given the shortages of basic supplies like food and water that are already occurring. The Nepalese Red Cross and other local NGOs have been working for years to train people in basic rescue, preparedness and first aid. With neighbours already helping neighbours there is no need for unskilled foreigners to take up precious supplies by coming to help. You can do much more good by donating the money you would spend on an airfare. One of the key lessons of the international response to the Haiti earthquake was the difficulty in coordinating the large number of small and inexperienced international NGOs and individuals who rushed to help – this actually hampered response efforts. It’s a similar story for further down the line once we get to recovery and re-construction efforts. If you don’t have specialist skills, your volunteering may end up taking away jobs that could be given to local people in the reconstruction. Despite the best of intentions, irresponsible volontourism can wind up not doing much good and even doing harm. Think critically about what it is you want to do before you go and check out the following resources to work out whether you’re doing the right thing.
Help the Economy Recover
If on the other hand your thinking of holidaying in Nepal – don’t necessarily change your plans. Tourism is a big part of Nepal’s economy and the industry and people’s livelihoods will be hit hard as tourists stay away in the wake of the earthquake. Once basic infrastructure has been repaired and flows of supplies have returned to normal, by all means make your holiday in Nepal and spend money in local shops, restaurants and other businesses and buy local products. This will help restore livelihoods and speed economic recovery.
Consider Skilled Volunteering
If you do have relevant skills, for example in engineering, volunteering in development can be an excellent way to help in the long term – especially if you’re aiming for fair trade learning. Check out organisations like Doctors Without Borders, Engineers Without Borders, EU Aid Volunteers, Australian Volunteers for International Development, VSO, Architects Without Borders or enquire with your national aid giving organisation about volunteer opportunities.