1-7 September 2017 #874

Citizens rush in

Sumana Shrestha
Whenever disasters strike Nepal, citizens are the first to respond. There is an emotional outpouring of empathy for the survivors, and this has been the case time and again: after fires, cold waves, earthquakes and following the recent floods. As civilians, we have learnt how to crowd-source and organise, taking advantage of our strong desire to help.

Some people have vast geographical knowledge, some are tech whizzes and some have communication skills to bring people together. The concept behind forming an alliance of citizens stemmed from past disasters in which not every team had all of the resources to provide broad relief to communities.    Alliance for Disaster Relief was formed in response to the floods in the Tarai. Organisations, professionals and volunteer groups expanded the reach of each member exponentially in distribution and procurement. We sourced and supplied more than 55 tons of food, over 5,000 mosquito nets, water purifiers to clean the equivalent of 2 million litres of water and 1,100-plus tarps, in 10 districts. We even sent 200 vials of tetanus vaccine to volunteers working in debris removal. All this with just Rs 4.3 million.  

The flow of money, donations and procurement rates were all noted in Google docs and receipts were posted on the group’s Facebook page. All funds raised were used to support flood victims: there were no salaries.

We sought collaboration with government to get the needs and distribution data updated daily. We could have found volunteers to complete Excel entries of all materials that came in and went out of each district, making the organisation of relief materials much easier. But our offer to help was turned down. 

The shelter cluster report of 20 August indicated that the government was procuring 88,000 tarps: that is 70% of all that has been distributed or planned. Our aim was to strengthen the government’s capacity so relief can move quicker.  

Most of the Alliance volunteers had other jobs, which they have returned to. Our responsibility was to quickly help while bigger organisations took time to get going. Many agencies are now in flood-affected areas with supplies, and our work is done. 

We wanted to offer the government a team of people who are extremely good at what they do and were ready to work for free for two weeks in an emergency to minimise human suffering. If the government calls for volunteers with specific skills in the future, there will be more response than it can handle, because people in Nepal are truly compassionate. 

We can share everything we have learnt with anyone who wants to provide support in the event of future disasters. When they do occur, let us hope that compassionate people are permitted to help.

Sumana Shrestha is with the Alliance for Disaster Relief Facebook.com/reliefalliance

Read also:

A slow start, David Seddon

Disastrous management, Editorial

Endagering relief, Sangita Thebe Limbu

Real story on PM Relief Fund

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