How to Help Nepal Most Effectively

As most readers likely know, Nepal was the victim of a massive earthquake that has thus far resulted in over 5,100 confirmed fatalities, with many more people feared dead, and has left tens of thousands homeless. Overall, over 8 million of the country’s 26 million people have been affected.

Unfortunately, like so many other developing countries that tend to fall prey to natural disaster, impoverished Nepal is struggling to mobilize rescue efforts and distribute aid; international support is barely trickling in, due both to apathy and the country’s poor and now damaged infrastructure. It is a sadly familiar story.

Needless to say, the people of Nepal need all the help they can get. As the devastation unfolds, many of us naturally want to do whatever we can to help, namely by donating to the humanitarian organizations on the ground.

If you want to make the most of every dollar, consider donating to the following trustworthy relief agencies, which have earned high ratings by Charity Navigator for efficiency and accountability (you can learn more about the charity reviewer and its methodology here).

AmeriCares

AmeriCares is an emergency response and global health organization. They have sent an emergency response team from their offices in Mumbai to Nepal and are “preparing shipments of medical aid and relief supplies for survivors.”

CARE

CARE describes itself as a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. It has a long-established presence in Nepal, and told USA Today that it was “coordinating with other agencies to assist up to 75,000 people.”

Catholic Relief Services

Catholic Relief Services is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the United States. It maintains field offices in Nepal and has started its relief effort by “procuring emergency relief materials such as tarpaulins/shelter kits and water, sanitation and hygiene material.”

Direct Relief is a nonprofit that specializes in providing international medical assistance. It is in the process of coordinating with local partners in Nepal and will focus its relief efforts on the “valley around Kathmandu, where medical facilities are overflowing with patients seeking care.”

GlobalGiving

GlobalGiving is a charity fundraising website that has set up a fund specifically for Nepal relief efforts. The money collected will go to “help first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter. Once initial relief work is complete, this fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts” run by vetted local organizations, according to a post on the GlobalGiving site.

International Relief Teams

International Relief Teams is a humanitarian organization that specializes in disaster relief, and also has a four-star rating. They have “ordered a shipment of emergency medicines to be airlifted to Nepal as soon as possible,” as part of their initial response.

Operation USA

Operation USA, an LA-based international relief agency, has had operations in Nepal since the mid-1980s and has a four-star rating on Charity Navigator.

“We are arranging to send replacement equipment to hospitals in Nepal to restore capacity as soon as possible,” Richard Walden, CEO of  Operation USA said in a statement. “Donations, especially bulk in-kind materials from corporate partners, are critical at this time — not only to deliver aid quickly, but also to ensure a long-term commitment to the people of Nepal who face a long and challenging road ahead as they pick up the pieces in the earthquake’s aftermath.”

Save the Children

Save the Children is an international NGO dedicated to promoting children’s rights and providing relief and support to children in developing countries. It has set up a Nepal fund to “protect vulnerable children and provide desperately needed relief to families.” Ten percent of the funds collected will go to prepare for the next disaster.

Seva Foundation

The Seva Foundation is a US-based nonprofit known for its work treating blindness. It has a long-running presence in Nepal and has set up an emergency relief fund.

World Help

World Help is Christian faith based humanitarian organization that works in the developing world, and has a four star rating on Charity Navigator. According to a post on their  site detailing their Nepal Earthquake Disaster Relief, they have a “broad network of partners” and a team on the ground that is focused on delivering urgent aid, including water, food, bedding and medical supplies.

UNICEF

The United Nation program dedicated to helping children in developing countries, is currently “mobilizing an urgent response to meet the needs of children” affected by the disaster, and is working to deliver water purification tablets, hygiene kits and nutrition supplies to those in need.

Oxfam

A confederation of NGOs, currently has “aid workers … on the ground, preparing to launch a rapid response to ensure food and water reaches” survivors, according to its site.

“We are focusing on providing clean water and sanitation to thousands of those affected,” says Lauren Hartnett, the Humanitarian Press Officer for Oxfam America. “These services are vital for basic health and also prevent the potential second crisis of illnesses like cholera and diarrhea.”

If you want to support charities that are local to the region — which typically have more experience and knowledge with the area — TIME mentions two major groups to consider:

Friends Service Council Nepal

FSCN is a Nepalese NGO with over 20 years of experience in supporting disaster relief efforts for disasters in Nepal. They are based in Kathmandu and have about 50 volunteers. Chairperson Surya Bahadur Thapa tells TIME that since the earthquake they have been rushing money, food and tents to people in need.

If you want to give directly to a local charity, get in contact and Thapa or a volunteer will explain how best to transfer money to them.

Goonj

Goonj is an Indian relief agency with 11 offices and more than 300 employees. They have set up Nepal-specific donation centers in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Rishikesh, founding director Anshu Gupta told TIME.

Currently, Goonj is readying two trucks of relief material to transfer to Nepal, with more urgent supplies going by air. Gupta will be leading team to Nepal tomorrow. Find out more about their operations here.

For more information about how to donate, visit their website.

I currently donate monthly to Direct Relief, and I can vouch for its effectiveness. Aside from its stellar ratings, the organization sends out a detailed and topical newsletter that highlights its various projects, goals, and milestones.

Other organizations I would add to the list based on both their high reviews and their responsiveness to the earthquake (of course you are free to research them yourself),

Charity Navigator maintains an up-to-date list of the top charities responding to the crisis, and offers this useful tip to keep in mind when donating to any humanitarian group:

But before you give to one of these charities, first decide what you want your donation to accomplish and select the charity offering that specific type of aid. To do this, simply use Charity Navigator’s website to view a charity’s rating page. Once you are satisfied with its rating, then you can jump to the charity’s website to learn more about the type of assistance the charity is providing in relation to this disaster. For more tips on giving in times of crisis, please review our Tips for Giving in Times of Crisis here.

Whichever charities you choose to support, please be on the lookout for con artists seeking to exploit the goodwill of others. As despicable and wanton as this scam is, such crimes are a common problem following almost every crisis (especially the most high profile). The Better Business Bureau (BBB), another prominent charity reviewer, issues the following warning view the Charlotte Observer:

The group advises giving to charities that are experienced at working with disaster victims to avoid “unscrupulous people who will attempt to take advantage of your generosity.”

“In the face of any disaster, people will immediately make donations to help the victims”, Tom Bartholomy, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont in Charlotte, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, scammers will also try to take advantage of generous donors”.

Following disasters, look-alike and sound-alike charities appear on the Internet, the group said, so donors should look out for fake charities that imitate the names of well-known organizations. Donors should also be wary of emotional appeals that don’t detail how the charity will provide aid to victims.

The Better Business Bureau advises giving to tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) charities to ensure donations are tax deductible.

Donors also shouldn’t send cash or money via wire transfer, the bureau said, nor give their credit card numbers or other personal information to a telephone solicitor or in response to an email solicitation.

The business group’s website provides detailed reports on relief organizations for those interested in seeing if the charity meets the standards for charitable giving.

In short, be vigilant and prudent, whether it is finding the most effective charity to support, or making sure your dollars are going to an actual humanitarian organization.

Meanwhile, Claire Bennet of The Guardian warns well-intentioned humanitarians not to be too hasty in providing assistance on the ground:

One of the biggest problems with relief work is that it is a free-for-all. Anyone who wants to, and who is privileged enough to afford a plane ticket, can pitch up. Unlike doctors or engineers, who need to train for years to gain qualifications that prove they probably know what they’re doing, no such qualification exists for aid workers.

What Nepal needs right now is not another untrained bystander, however much her heart is hurting. Nepal has one international airport for the entire country, which has itself sustained damage. That airport needs to be used for emergency supplies, immediate aid for the victims, and qualified, professional relief workers. My trip back to commiserate with loved ones can wait a few weeks.

With that said, she offers the following advice to keep in mind:

Remember that it is not about you. It is not about your love for the country and its people. Your feelings of guilt and helplessness may be difficult to deal with, but you may not be what is needed right now. Do not rush to go there, at least for the next couple of weeks while the country is reeling. The exception to this is if you are a qualified professional with much-needed skills to offer. If you are, join up with an international relief agency that can place you in a position where you are needed most.

Do not donate stuff. Secondhand goods are difficult to distribute in a disaster area and are hardly ever what is actually needed. It is easier, and often in the long run cheaper, for organisations to procure goods themselves and distribute based on need. If you want to give away things you no longer need, sell them and donate the money to the relief fund. Or give them to a local charity shop, which can convert them into cash on your behalf.

Give money. More than your plane ticket or your collection of old T-shirts, what is most needed in Nepal right now is money. Donate what you can, to a reputable relief organisation, and do research to find out where your money will go. If you can, compare a few organisations with aid appeals and ensure that you agree with their approach.

In the short term, handouts are necessary. I have previously questioned this as a method of long-term development. However, in the immediate wake of such devastation, handouts are necessary to give victims the essentials for survival.

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”.

And if you do decide to go … Please look at the resources we have produced on the Learning Service website before you get on the plane. I am not against volunteering; I am imploring you to wait a while and think carefully about where to use your skills. Volunteering can have a wonderful impact on the world, when done mindfully. But it is not easy or automatically beneficial. Before signing up for a programme, spend time learning about Nepal and the complex nature of its recovery and development, and continue to be open to learning during your time there.

Finally, another writer at The Guardian, Shaheen Chughtai, brings attention to how Nepal’s entrenched poverty and underdevelopment, which was worsened by a decades-long civil war and continuing political paralysis, has made it especially vulnerable to disasters like earthquakes.

I remember looking at the thousands of flimsy shacks and hovels lining Kathmandu’s dusty slums and the sturdier, but still precarious, multi-tiered family homes, the cheaply built apartment blocks and ornate temples that collectively give the city its colourful, distinctive appearance. We all understood and feared what a big earthquake would surely do there.

But it’s not just its violent geology that made Kathmandu fundamentally flawed. More than a million people are crammed inside it. Even before this latest earthquake, half of Nepal’s 28 million population didn’t have access to improved sanitation and lived below the poverty line, around one in three of them in severe poverty. Their ability to cope with a major disaster is crippled by the lack of economic and social infrastructure that people in richer nations take for granted. Many thousands of Nepalese are going to need a great deal of help.

Nepal has long been desperate for a huge, sustained investment to strengthen its physical infrastructure and keep its people safer, and to develop its economy and services so that local communities and the state have enough assets to fall back on. The challenge now will be to invest the outpouring of international aid – which certainly will come – into a rescue, recovery and eventual reconstruction effort that will do exactly that.

This is the sort of big picture view we need to keep in mind when crises like these emerge. Were it not for its widespread poverty and lack of public investment, Nepal may have been better able to weather this disaster and respond effectively to the needs of survivors. But like most countries that tend to frequently fall victim to large scale catastrophes, the country suffered doubly for being poor, misgoverned, and neglected.

While it needs as much immediate help as possible, Nepal — and the many other countries that are dealt a bad hand by geography and history — needs longer-term solutions and support that go beyond ad hoc responses to crises. For now, let us focus on giving its beleaguered people what we can, whether it is funds, volunteers (when or if required), and/or raising awareness.

Update: If you are looking for another way to help beyond donating or volunteering, CityLab has reported on an interesting crowdsourcing project that will give much needed support to frustrated relief efforts:

Go help out the good efforts at OpenStreetMap, the open-source mapping platform powered by citizen cartographers all over the world. Members of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) have been updating Nepal’s earthquake-affected regions since Saturday, tracing and checking “roads, buildings, and open spaces (for helicopter landing)” so people on the ground can get where they need to go with accuracy.

You don’t need to be in Nepal to lend a hand (the OSM platform uses fresh satellite imagery to help you update their map), and you don’t need to be a professional cartographer, either. It helps if you’ve used OSM before, even if only to play around with mapping your own neighborhood. But if you haven’t, learning the basics isn’t too hard. Here are two step-by-stepguides that will show you how to do HOT remote mapping, and here’s a specific list of tasks that the HOT team is prioritizing in Nepal.

It is great to see people tap into their creative energies, as well as into financial and technological resources, to help others in need on the other end of the world.

UPDATE: Fellow secular humanists may want to consider donating to the Foundation Beyond Belief, which is raising funds on behalf of the The Women’s Foundation Nepal. Since it is a local group, and one focused on an especially vulnerable demographic, it is an ideal choice. Plus, we humanists need to do more to be visible and active in charitable causes far and wide. Hat tip to reader Helen Clark for letting me know about this!

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