Nepal Citizen Volunteers Bring Quake Relief

There are people who use the political space to take from others, to gather to themselves those benefits and resources that should be built up for a stronger, freer, more dignified future. They sometimes succeed in taking what is not theirs, but they are never successful. They cannot build a genuine legacy or make good happen in the world. When the earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, the other kind of political actor snapped into action, the kind we hope for: the decent soul intent on being of service to others.

Less than 45 minutes into the quake, while aftershocks were so close together some experienced it as one long wave of tremors, I was chatting with Aryan Uprety, our national coordinator for CCL volunteers in Nepal. He was telling me that the disaster was already severe, and there were fallen buildings and injured people everywhere. A team of Red Cross volunteers and first-responders were on their way. I asked him if they were coming to help him, or if he was leaving to help them. He was unhurt, and was on his way out into the danger, to assist in the rescue and relief effort.

A few days ago, I asked Aryan to share some news of the work he and his team have been doing since that moment. He wrote this to me:

I am sending a group of 20 youth volunteers to Bhirkot (Dolakha district), as we got news that no rescue has reached there so. In response, we collected rice, cereals, oil, tents, salt, water, those things a person requires to survive. Then we need to work for sanitation, so we collected sanitizers and made a team of 20, after adding 5 volunters from FB to our task force of 15.

The team will be leaving to Dolakha tomorrow with some 100 sacks of food items, tents for 80–90 families, 700 liters of water, medicines and a medical team. They will reach the destination on Monday around 3 pm, then they will be studying the place. There is a mapping team who will use the time for mapping, and the next morning also the team will do mapping. This makes it easier to re-supply the team.

Across Nepal, there were people immediately joining together to help others, even as the disaster was still unfolding. For most, there was no question: people are at risk, people are buried, might be dying, and so they needed to help. Inspired by the prospect of such efforts to do good, people around the world had begun organizing within hours. Youth leaders, random strangers, people with family or friends in harm’s way, began looking for ways to organize their efforts and be of use.

The obvious human need has generated a natural human response, on a large scale. People who are able, and will commit the energy, and who can magnify the work of others, and accelerate delivery of help to where it is needed, have a role to play. The tragedy of the Nepal earthquake is undeniable, but it has opened a new space for principled civics: people doing what they can are making other people’s lives a little easier, or in some cases a lot easier. Acts of citizenship, both between and among Nepal’s own citizens and also across borders, are saving lives.

During a meeting of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want platform, at the UN last week, Olav Kjørven of UNICEF—who was on a mountain just outside Kathmandu when the quake struck—took a moment to recognize the tireless youth advocates and citizen volunteers that were working to coordinate this spontaneous response. He said it was an important example of the power of direct citizen engagement and civil society coordination. The group had started through WhatsApp, and used Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to connect, and has now built a Nepal Earthquake Response group through the World We Want platform, to ensure resources can be shared, searched, found and put to work where and when needed.

You read above that Aryan’s team is mapping the affected areas, to facilitate resupply and action tracking. Smart young people are doing serious crisis mapping to facilitate tracking of the entire relief operation, even as spontaneous teams of volunteers join the effort. That crisis mapping is making it possible to expand the reach of small, focused teams and get more aid to more people.

The young people who are leading this informal international coordinating effort are pioneers in building a new human-scale emergency response mechanism. They are finding ways to collaborate with international aid agencies, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and small local groups of volunteers, including scouts who have traveled out on foot in search of help.

One volunteer posted this report for Fill the Bucket:

Doctors from Nepalgunj Medical College drove 5 hrs and walked 4 hrs to reach Shangba Bazaar, center for 4 VDCs (Bigu, Alampu, Chilanka, Khopachagu) – villages touching the Nepal-China border and hard hit by diarrhoea epidemic. They will be setting camps there tonight and will start health camps from tomorrow.

The report thanked “Fellow Bucketeers Dr. Nitesh Kanodia, Dr. Salman Nizam Siddiqui and the entire medics team.”

This kind of spontaneous networking and coordination is also allowing for real amplification of good will efforts. Across Nepal, women are playing a leading role in relief and rebuilding. A combination of modern communications technology and principled volunteer collaboration is allowing people to contribute according to their abilities. Neither age nor gender is necessarily an impediment. A model may be emerging that could allow for faster, more comprehensive disaster relief, where aid need not be denied to one area in favor of another that is assigned higher priority.

Early this morning (New York time), the report came through the Nepal Quake Response WhatsApp group that Nepal had suffered at least 4 more earthquakes in quick succession, one reported to have registered higher than 7.0 on the Richter scale. A screenshot from the US Geological Survey showed 8 quakes in just 3 hours—one large one, registering 7.3, with 7 aftershocks ranging from 4.3 (the last) to 6.3 (30 min after the 7.3). Most had epicenters within 20 miles of Kodari, while one had its epicenter inside China.

We were able to confirm that Olive Nepal and CCL Nepal volunteers were safe. Of course, with virtually no delay they were back in service. Around the same time, we were informed that a number of youth volunteers were trapped by landslides. Conditions are harsh, and the longer the relief period extends, the more compounded difficulties some communities will face.

UNICEF today shared the tragic news that 1.7 million children across Nepal are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance: they need food, clean water, shelter, sanitation and medical assistance. One of the biggest challenges is the end-of-journey delivery of aid, “the last mile”. To meet the needs of those 1.7 million children and the millions across Nepal who need emergency response aid, we need to make sure resources moving toward these local teams and their high-precision local knowledge.

Ravi Karkara, who has been instrumental in facilitating these connections, has written about child-centered disaster risk reduction (DRR). The report found “Children and adolescents must not be perceived as mere victims but as effective actors,” with a genuine role to play in fostering and securing resiliency for future disaster response. Creating spaces for child participation in community-based DRR planning can provide a direct means of protection against future harm—an example of how participatory planning, review and response, can facilitate better coordination between responders and affected communities, and better outcomes.

Through Nepal Quake Response groups on various social media platforms, and the resource-sharing group on the World We Want platform, and through other collaborations and NGOs, citizen volunteers are stepping up to face this complex challenge. They are putting their energy, their personal resources, and their own safety, into the work of serving the urgent human need now facing Nepal. We should support and empower them, and do whatever we can do to ensure this best of call civic instincts is given every chance to prevail.

— Updates & Resources

The Nepal Earthquake Response space on the World We Want platform provides links for donating to earthquake relief efforts, as well as updates from volunteers and organizations working. In the affected areas or to support efforts in the affected areas.

Massive financial support is going to be needed if impoverished Nepal is to rebuild from the devastating weekend earthquake. Here’s how you can donate:

The following infographic provides an important window into the scale of the crisis in Nepal. There have been 228 serious aftershocks so far, measuring 4.0 or above.

The human crisis does not fade simply because the a lot of aid has been delivered. This is an ongoing crisis, with much more required to prevent further devastation to the people of Nepal.

Children are particularly at risk. There are now efforts underway to identify and counter the risk of child trafficking:

Aid money is flooding in to the country, children’s homes are offering hundreds of more places for children, and not enough is being done in the rural areas to stop the flow of children away from their families into profit making orphanages. NGN is doing what it can to try and establish our own “gate-keeping project” in the worst affected district of Sindhupalchowk – this will warn families about the dangers of trafficking, and reunify displaced children.

Together for Protection

Authors: Neha Karkara and Ravi Karkara

Published by Plan International and Save the Children

This booklet is a practical guide for young persons to keep self and others safe from abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence. It lists important websites, resources and activities to further understanding about all forms of violence children and young people face. 

This book can also be used by teachers, parents and other caregivers, organizations working to end violence faced by children and others who care about children. 

Download PDF


UPDATE, May 18, 2015, 12:28 pm: Tomorrow, May 19, a joint effort between Citizens’ Climate Lobby Nepal and Olive Nepal will send 4 doctors, 3 nurses, along with a team of 8 more volunteers, to Balthali Kavre. The volunteer medical expedition will be coordinated by CCL Nepal volunteer Niroj Shrestha.

These kind of volunteer expeditions are the glue that hold the relief effort together and keep it moving forward. Small groups of committed citizens can team up with trained relief workers, and ensure delivery of aid to areas that would otherwise go unattended or undersupplied.

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