Preparing for the Inevitable: Natural Disasters

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By Mansi Desai, Give2Asia Marketing Intern

April 25th, 2015 was a dark day for the people of Nepal. Over 3 million people were rendered homeless, 22,000 were injured, and at least 9,000 were killed in what was one of the deadliest earthquakes to have struck the country. Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, the earthquake struck about 40 miles away from the capital city, Kathmandu, wrecking entire communities. Along with people's’ livelihoods, Nepal’s cultural sites were also destroyed.

Two and a half years later, communities are still recuperating from the aftermath of this devastating tragedy. Why is it taking this long for the people of Nepal to get back on their feet? The answer is simple. The road to long-term recovery, much like it sounds, is a lengthy process. Obstacles like critical weather conditions (heavy monsoons followed by equally brutal winters bring all construction to a standstill), geographic barriers (the mountainous topography of the region makes it even more difficult to build earthquake resilient structures), and government challenges (corruption and favoritism lead to uneven delivery of aid) have also contributed to the slowdown of recovery in the region.

While each disaster is unique, there are some common lessons to be learned. Working towards rebuilding communities across Nepal has shed light on how best to deal with both recovering from a disaster and preparing for one:

Early Warning Systems: Even today, earthquake early warning systems have been deployed in only a handful of the world’s seismic hot zones. These systems can warn people minutes before the earthquake strikes. Seismologist Peggy Hellweg of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley said, “If Nepal had a seismic network that operated as the seismic stations in Northern California did in the Napa quake, people in Kathmandu would probably have had 15 to 20 seconds warning.” This would have provided residents with enough time to take appropriate cover, or even escape some collapsing buildings.

Building Back Better: The reconstruction of communities will mean nothing if future disaster possibilities aren’t taken into account. “Building back better” looks at the bigger picture:

○ The building codes need to be improved, town planning has to be done at a more superior level, and the community’s infrastructure needs to be strengthened.

○ Decentralized disaster risk reduction planning must be part of the reconstruction and recovery process.

Data Collection/Access to Information: Japan is one of the most prepared countries when it comes to disaster preparedness. However, when the 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck, it had a shockingly devastating outcome. Seismologists concluded that it was the lack of information that restricted them from predicting a disaster of this magnitude. In the wake of the earthquake, researchers have been working towards building better earthquake models and forecasting for not only Japan, but also the rest of the world.

Local Community Involvement: According to research, a community that is struck by disaster recovers faster if locals are involved in the restoration process. Nobody knows communities better than their residents, and it is necessary to involve them at every step of the planning and rebuilding process. In fact, a majority of lifesaving work in any disaster is done by the population themselves.

Coordination: The lack of coordination between the government and local authorities, coupled with corruption and favoritism, led to the uneven delivery of aid across the country. Additionally, the national government had pledged that all citizens who lost their homes would receive a subsidy of around $2,000 USD to rebuild. As of April 2016, those funds had not been released. Many have avoided rebuilding even modest shelters for fear of losing eligibility for the subsidy, if and when the government made the funds available.

Immediate Versus Long-Term Relief: Providing immediate relief to the victims of disaster is necessary, but neglecting their long-term shelter needs is a mistake. The damage done by the Nepal earthquake didn’t just stop at infrastructure. People's’ means of making a living was also affected in the process. Recovery of the local economy and livelihoods is the key to long-term relief.

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Since 2015, Give2Asia has been working with local organizations to provide both emergency and long-term relief to victims of the Nepal earthquake. Some of the projects include constructing earthquake-resilient homes for the locals, rebuilding schools and classrooms in several districts, and carrying out earthquake drills and safety-preparedness in schools. Today, Give2Asia is working with Koshish Nepal to seek out persons displaced by the earthquake that suffer from mental health issues and provide them with psychosocial support.

Since 2014, Give2Asia has been a leader in supporting disaster preparedness and resilience by partnering with locally-based organizations that are helping their communities adapt to the growing threat of disasters. Natural disasters are inevitable and we may not be able to prevent them, but we can definitely work towards building a more resilient community, one that emerges from such incidents stronger than ever.

To learn more about Give2Asia’s Disaster Preparedness Program, click here.