“We are safe.”
These three words from friends in Nepal jumped off the page at me when I opened Facebook this morning.
Scanning their images of cracks and more damage to buildings, it became apparent another quake had rocked the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.
This time the 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck eastern Nepal near Namche Bazar in the Everest region, just two weeks after the one that killed more than 8000 people and left so much destruction in the Kathmandu valley.
Some reports from the BBC in Kathmandu:
You could feel it really strongly. You could feel it went on for about 25 seconds – the ground was shaking, the birds started squawking, you could feel the buildings shaking.
There was another aftershock and people were all out on the street. That aftershock really added anxiety and panic. People started crying.
They are calm but you can tell they are scared.
And a message from other friends on Facebook involved in humanitarian work:
7.1 aftershock have taken few more lives and destroyed more properties. Trauma case increased.
After two weeks of reading and seeing all their posts and emails about the recovery effort, the need and destruction, this further earthquake is indeed an incredible blow.
However what has also been encouraging in the last two weeks is seeing the global response to the needs in Nepal, both in the media, social media and otherwise, with perhaps a growing global consciousness and understanding of this beautiful, remote, Himalayan kingdom.
It is also good to see how much Nepali people have stepped up to help their own people as well. Nepali churches, community groups and even children’s centres I know have hired trucks and got together supplies to take to remote villages they know have received no aid, funding it largely themselves. To me these groups are the unsung heroes because they are just getting on with what they think they need to do without the acknowledgement the big budget aid organisations and governments receive.
But the reality is that numerous problems existed in Nepal before these tragedies, and they will linger long after the international aid effort ceases. And all these issues such as health, education, town planning, traffic management, political stability and fuel supplies will contribute in some way, big or small, to tackling other disasters like this in the future.
(READ MORE: Opinion: Nepal needs help, but not the kind we think)
It’s a common knee jerk reaction to send $50 or to rush in and assist in a disaster and there’s nothing wrong with that. Aid is required in all forms at this time and much is needed. However the need for sustainable development and rebuilding will be vital in Nepal in the months and years ahead.
Sadly these twin earthquakes have perhaps highlighted those needs in a way nothing else could. For instance there has long been a need for better infrastructure planning, tighter building construction codes and other industry issues affecting architecture in Nepal.
After a decade of Maoist insurgency and political uncertainty, it is perhaps no surprise that Nepal was not ready with a tactical response to such a disaster despite the numerous warnings about the possibility of fault activity. The International Business Times went so far as to call the country a “basketcase”:
Nepal may be best known in Europe for its ancient temples and the towering peaks of Mount Everest, but the tiny landlocked country is an economic basket-case where political deadlock and rampant corruption have long stymied any sort of lasting growth.
Whatever the case is, those that have been to the country will also know how much the challenging geography, lack of communications and other infrastructure play a big role in delivering adequate – if any – resources and services to people.
While some of these issues are bigger than Ben Hur there are ways we can help, and ways that go beyond the immediate relief efforts.
The Guardian published an excellent article in the days after the first earthquake highlighting the writer’s concern that the aid response to Nepal does not mirror that of Haiti where ragtag teams rushed in, all with good intentions, but probably added to the need in the country that still exists five years later. The writer also noted that the airport and the flights coming in would currently be best utilised by urgent supplies and qualified relief workers, “essential travel”, not do-gooders or even visits from family that can wait.
Highlights of that article about our response to disasters that are worth reiterating include:
1. It’s not about you. Don’t rush in but seek to join an established organisation, offering skills to be placed where you are really needed.
2. Do not donate stuff. Sell things and donate the proceeds.
3. Give money. Rather than buy a plane ticket give money to a reputable relief organisation.
4. In the short term, handouts are necessary to ensure survival.
5. In the long term, rebuild sustainably.
If in the coming months you want to contribute to the rebuilding efforts and the longer-term development of the country, consider sustainability as a factor. There will be many programmes to repair and rebuild destroyed houses. Nepal is an earthquake-prone country, so the buildings most likely to withstand another quake are not those that are cheapest, or those made by foreign volunteer labourers for “free”.
Some of that sustainable development is actually quite specific. Experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit have identified not only rebuilding efforts in earthquake torn-areas but health risks posed by overcrowded hospitals and reduced water supplies, in turn related to other problems – not things just the everyday volunteer can assist with but those with certain skills can.
Access to clean water is an ongoing issue and related to electricity supply. Nepal suffers from power outages that can last up to 10-12 hours a day to conserve electricity. As many houses in Kathmandu pump groundwater up to tanks on the roof of their houses, getting access to water at present is a problem with the lack of electricity after the quake. Nepal is obviously blessed with an abundance of natural water resources but accessing and channeling it has always been an issue and more hydroprojects are needed.
The economy has obviously been dealt a huge blow by the quakes, not just because local businesses are damaged and many have closed, but because the country relies heavily on tourism. Eight percent of Nepal’s GDP comes from tourism and obviously thousands of visitors have recently cancelled their trips to the country.
The International Business Times reported on the impacts of this fallout in tourism:
That is bad news for Nepal, where the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation estimates that one job is generated by every six tourist visits and 138,000 Nepalese are employed in the tourist industry. The country had 800,000 visitors in 2013, mostly from India and China, both of which are vying for influence in their tiny neighbour.
“Kathmandu is central to the nation’s economy and it is crippled. The extent of the impact depends both on the magnitude of the disaster [and] the resources and capacity to cope. We don’t have that,” former finance minister Madhukar SJB Rana told Bloomberg on Sunday.
What can we do as tourists? In the months and years ahead visit and spend tourist dollars in Nepal once you feel there is no longer a safety risk and infrastructure has recovered enough to cater for you – drop an email to an established hotel or travel agency first to check.
Leading trip organisers to Nepal such as Trailfinder and Intrepid Travel have cancelled all their immediate trips but said they will continue to assess logistics as to when they may be able to resume travels.
And there are certainly ways to travel responsibly in the near future. A Canadian town planner told the International Business Times he planned to use the forthcoming trip he had already paid for to volunteer where he was needed, contacting Oxfam and hotels first, and spending money in the country.
Natural disasters are a double whammy for places like that because they lose the tourism too. Part of helping is going to restaurants and hotels and spending money. They need money to keep their economy going.
And an Australian physio friend who was already in Kathmandu assisting at a local foundation for disabled children when the quake struck stayed on assisting in what way she could. With such specific skills to offer she was no doubt a fantastic asset.