Humanitarian Spotlight: Nepal Earthquake

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On Saturday, April 25th, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country of Nepal, leaving the shaken nation to recover from the worst earthquake to hit the Himalayan region in over 80 years. The death toll has now risen above 5,200 people, with over10,300 injuredfigures expected to rise as national and international response teams gain access to remote locations. Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala recently warned that the death toll could reach 10,000 people. Dozens have also beenkilled in India and Tibet, China’s state agency said, with at least18 people killed and 60 more injured around Mount Everest. Buildings have been decimated and cultural and historical landmarks reduced to ruinspast and present destroyed all at once. The UN Office of the Resident Coordinator in Nepal estimates that 8 million people, one quarter of the population, have been affected, with tens of thousands left homeless and1.4 million people requiring food aid.

Local communities – always the first responders in humanitarian emergencies – and Nepalese troops spent the first few days searching for trapped individuals and loved ones among the rubble and tending to the needs of the injured and the recovery of the dead. The international community responded promptly, offeringsupport and resources as the Nepalese government struggles tomanage a relief operation of this size and magnitude. Disaster Response and Search and Rescue Teams have been deployed fromIndia, China, the United States, Pakistan, Israel, and the UK, while several other countries have offered financial support.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, priority needs will includefood, water, shelter, and various health considerations toprevent the spread of disease. Many of the villages outside of Nepal’s capital and largest municipality, Kathmandu, where thedamage is thought to be the worst, have been difficult to access due to landslides and poor weather.

WFP is providing food and trucks for distribution, UNICEFis sending tents and healthcare supplies, and WHO isaddressing urgent health issues. IFRC and the Red Cross National Societies have also been heavily involved in the response along with the International Medical Corps and a number ofinternational charities already present in Nepal, such as Save the Children.

Relief efforts have encountered various challenges includingcrippled transportation systems, damaged communication infrastructure, overwhelmed health services, and airport capacity limitations. Due to the multiple aftershocks and desperate living conditions, more than 100,000 people have already left Kathmandu, with officials estimating the number could reach 300,000, more than a 10th of the city’s population.

In the immediate aftermath of the emergency, communications and social media have played a significant role in tracking the missing and connecting families. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was one of the first agencies to launch an online platform to trace thousands of missing people after the earthquake. Google also initiated its Person Finder that allows individuals to post information about their condition or to try to find missing family members, and Facebook activated its Safety Check, a feature that helps friends and relatives quickly find out whether their loved ones are safe.

Now more than ever, there seems to be a greater analytical foundation underlying the international humanitarian response, informed by the experiences of aid professionals and lessons learned from past crises. International Alert has issued a statement gently cautioning that humanitarian aid can go wrong if the aid workers don’t take into account the full reality on the ground. The organization believes the Nepal Earthquake is a crucial moment to ensure that post-disaster aid delivery and reconstruction efforts are carried out in an inclusive, sustainable and conflict-sensitive way. Aid professionals have also commented widely about the implications of impulsive international volunteering, and the dangers of donating goods, advising instead to send money to experienced and reputable aid organizations – or in one author’s words “choose a sector and do your homework.”

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