THE BLOG

Nepal Earthquake: What Happened and What You Can Do to Help

04/27/2015 05:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

As you have probably heard by now, on April 25, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal approximately 50 miles northwest of the capital city of Kathmandu. Tremors were felt throughout Nepal, as well as in neighboring countries. In the hours and days following the earthquake, aftershocks have continued to rock Kathmandu and surrounding areas. This weekend's quake was the worst to hit Nepal in more than 80 years.

The city of Kathmandu is located in the Kathmandu Valley where approximately 2.5 million people live. For years, experts have said that it was only a matter of time before a large earthquake struck Nepal. And, when it did, it would be a disaster. The city's infrastructure is poor. The population density is high. Buildings are not built to withstand strong shocks. The New York Times reports, "The death toll in Nepal on Saturday [April 25] was practically inevitable given the tectonics, the local geology that made the shaking worse and the lax construction of buildings that could not withstand the shaking." However, many have been surprised that the damage was not worse.

While much of the attention and media coverage has focused on the city of Kathmandu and the related avalanche around Everest Base Camp, the earthquake also devastated villages outside of the capital city that rescue workers were not able to access as quickly. Buckled roads, blocked access, and limited resources mean that many villages have not received any assistance. Krishna Prasad Dhakal, the deputy chief of mission at Nepal's Embassy in New Delhi, India, stated that "the devastation is not confined to some areas of Nepal. Almost the entire country has been hit."

During the evenings of April 25 and 26, thousands of people in affected areas slept outside in the cool and rainy night, fearing aftershocks would strike and uncertain of the safety of their homes. Pete Pattisson from The Guardian reported from Nepal that "local residents walk through the narrow streets [of Patan] clutching blankets, to gather in open areas and temple grounds" for the night.

As of April 27, the death toll stands at an estimated 4,000 people dead and 7,000 others injured. The number of those affected by the earthquake is likely to increase in the coming days as access to remote areas and communication improves.

As you learn more about the crisis, many of you may want to do something to help those suffering in Nepal. Living seemingly so far away, it is difficult to know how to respond, what to do to help, and what is appropriate at a time like this. However, here are just a few ways that you can help the people of Nepal not only to survive the immediate aftermath of this disaster but also begin rebuilding their lives again.

Give Cash

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the thing that aid organizations need most is money. While many of us want to give something tangible to those affected by an emergency, this is not always helpful (see below for more). Donating cash to organizations responding to a disaster helps them to immediately begin sending staff to affected areas, quickly purchase and distribute relief supplies, and develop a strategy for both immediate relief and longer-term recovery efforts. While giving cash may feel impersonal, it's the fastest and most effective way to help in the short term.

Be Thoughtful in Where Your Donation Goes

If you do decide to give to an aid organization responding to this disaster, be thoughtful about where you send your money, as not all those responding are the same. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Some organizations have experience working in Nepal, and others do not. Knowing the local context is key to ensuring that response efforts are locally appropriate and actually meet needs.
  • Some organizations have long-standing local partnerships, and others do not. Having roots in communities, knowing local community leaders and government officials, and understanding where needs are the greatest and the most effective way to reach those in need is crucial in alleviating suffering.
  • Some organizations have the skills and technical expertise needed right now in Nepal while others may not. In the aftermath of an earthquake, search-and-rescue teams and first responders are needed immediately. Teams of medical experts can help save lives and take the strain off local healthcare providers. A number of other experts--including but not limited to those working in logistics, shelter and infrastructure, water and sanitation, child protection, economic recovery, and education in emergencies--will also be needed to ensure that the humanitarian response is responsibly managed and treats those affected in a dignified manner.

The aid industry is a big business, so before you give, take a few minutes to determine if your donation is going to an organization that will help to alleviate human suffering rather than just benefit its bottom line. Want to know where to give? Check out the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), which was established to inform the public about the best ways to donate to relief efforts. In addition, Charity Navigator reviews aid organizations and provides information on their practices. CNN, the New York Times, and other media outlets also have also issued lists of organizations responding to the earthquake in Nepal that can help guide your giving if you're unsure.

Think Twice about Mailing Relief Supplies

Following the earthquake in Nepal, we have heard reports of what people need in the aftermath of the disaster--clean drinking water, temporary shelter, blankets for cold nights, etc. However, before attempting to collect and ship any needed supplies to Nepal, think twice about the impact of your actions. Aid organizations may already have needed supplies in storage somewhere in the region that they can move quickly, or organizations may be able to purchase these supplies somewhere nearby. Additionally, mailing supplies to Nepal would require an airport with the ability to receive them, customs officials available to approve their entry, roads and trucks to transport them, and knowledge of where these supplies should go once they arrive. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the media reported more stories than we would like to hear about cases of bottled drinking water or other goods being shipped to Haiti from well-meaning people in the U.S. that just sat on airport tarmacs and never got to those in need. So, before deciding to collect items to ship to Nepal, think twice about the situation and needs on the ground.

Don't Forget about Nepal

In the coming months, weeks, and maybe even days, focus on the situation in Nepal will fade, and something else will catch the world's attention. The plight of the Nepalese may slip to the back of your mind and then maybe just become an afterthought before being forgotten altogether. While there is a lot going on in the world, don't forget about Nepal. And, in a few months, when the relief phase of the international humanitarian response ends and a focus on longer-term recovery begins, know that your help is still needed. While it may be less exciting to donate to organizations focused on preparing for and building resilience to disasters, these investments are important. The road to recovery for Nepal is a long one. And, while you may not keep up with the country's progress day-to-day, don't forget that the people of Nepal need you. They need you to remember their plight, support their recovery, and to build resilience in their country and other countries so that when future disasters do strike, governments and local people alike are better prepared to prevent them (when possible), mitigate their impact, and speed up the recovery process.

To read more about responding to international disasters, you can find an article previously written by the author for AmeriCorps Alums here.