If disaster relief were simply a question of money, Nepal would shortly be righted. The world rarely fails, in financial terms, to respond to natural tragedies, and with hundreds of thousands of Nepalese displaced by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and at least 5,000 dead, both governments and individuals have responded generously. The rush to help is necessary and admirable. But history teaches that, on the ground, that rush can sometimes – if combined with a lack of co-ordination – be dangerous.
The lessons from Haiti, struck by an earthquake in 2010 and still lacking basic infrastructure, should inform today’s relief effort. There, a melee of aid organisations operating independently of each other – often in impromptu fashion – created as many problems as they solved. To prevent a repeat of such waste and mismanagement, NGOs in Nepal must be far more transparent about what exactly they are doing with their funds – if only so that others can avoid overlapping. New technology may assist: thousands of volunteers mapped the earthquake’s effects within 48 hours, using high-definition satellite imagery.
Better still would be for those NGOs which do not already have a strong presence in Nepal to avoid the country altogether and let the money filter through to established international agencies or local groups – such as the Nepalese Red Cross – that will be around long after the media and most aid workers depart. Organisations with an intimate knowledge of the people will be better at getting them back on their feet, and less likely to impose the kind of “top-down” solutions that so often subsequently fall apart. Imperative above all is to “build back better”, so that the next time the plates beneath the Himalayas convulse, the damage is reduced.
Nepal is not Haiti. President Ram Baran Yadav’s government looks better equipped to deal with catastrophe. But outsiders who wish to support the recovery must remember what happened five years ago – and make sure they are not getting in the way first.
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