Using local networks in emergency response

Emily Lawrence and emBOLDen Alliances

On 25 April 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter in the Gorkha District of Nepal caused severe destruction in 14 of the country’s 75 districts. Two weeks later, on 12 May, another quake of 7.3 magnitude hit with a more eastern epicenter, and worsened the humanitarian situation. According to the United Nations Dispatch, the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks affected approximately 5.6 million people, killed 8,891 people and displaced approximately 2.8 million.

Within days of the earthquake, relief flooded into the country and an estimated 100 international search and rescue and medical teams immediately dispatched to provide emergency relief and to help prepare for recovery. As the earthquakes affected predominantly remote mountain villages, rescue and humanitarian operations took place in extremely challenging terrain. Local knowledge and networks were critical in minimizing further death and damage and maximizing delivery of life-saving resources.

This is the story of several exemplary Nepalese who acted immediately to help their fellow citizens. Their response assisted countless individuals and invaluably directed international aid efforts.

Ang and Sherap

In the days after the earthquake, money for relief efforts began trickling in to Ang Tshering Lama, owner of Ang’s Himalayan Adventures. Previous clients and Nepali friends living abroad started to send money. Ang’s response effort quickly escalated and he started to make trips out to Sindhupalchok District with other outdoor trekking guides to bring food and supplies. “We had this whole team of kayakers, rafting guides, mountaineers, so we blended in. If we had to climb a mountain, we did it.” Through his connections with the mountaineering world, he connected with Person 2 Person 4 Nepal, a national grassroots movement and with emBOLDen Alliances, a non-profit based out of Colorado, to transport duffle bags filled with temporary shelter and supplies up to remote villages in the mountains.

Sherap Sherpa, owner of Wild Tracks, also knew that he had to help his fellow villagers. Sherap lives in Kathmandu, but he is from a small village of 26 households 148km north from Kathmandu, near the Tibetan border.  Everyone in his small village was fine, but many people had lost their homes and were in need of medication and daily essentials.  Sherap started by going to the local market in Kathmandu where he bought tarpaulins, rice, cooking oil, and plastic containers for water. However, he had no idea how to transport the supplies as the roads were buried, and it was impossible to even hike to the village. Then he received a call from a friend who flies for Dragon Air, who said that his friend who worked for Search and Rescue Technical Rescue (SRTR) in China was flying into Kathmandu to help. Sherap lead them to the districts of Nuwakot, Sindhupalchok and Rasuwa with SRTR. In addition, he also helped build temporary learning centers in Syabru Bensi of Rasuwa District. He brought tents to set up a temporary hostel for 40 resident kids in the same school, set up a clean drinking water facility, and provided solar rechargeable lamps.  Without Sherap to guide these international resources appropriately, the school children may have suffered waiting, or may never have been reached.

Local Networks

Both Ang and Sherap work in the tourist guiding industry and have a deep understanding of the complexities of Nepali culture and language. Their knowledge and skill helped them to respond to the April earthquake with flexibility and speed. “For westerners, it’s hard, because they have to do a lot of logistics, they have to do the research first, and that takes time you know.  Whereas I go on word of mouth from people whom I know and trust: ‘This many people are killed, this many are injured and this is all gone.’  Then we say: ‘Okay we are coming,’ and this is how we do it. We don’t have to have a team go and do all of that scrutiny first…you know, write it down, evaluate the situation, etc.  We knew that everything was gone, everyone’s homes are gone,” explained Ang.  He continued: “In Nepal, it is not like America, it’s through word of mouth. ‘Do you need our help? Okay, we are coming.’”

Because of their work in the tourism industry, all of these men had contacts in and direct knowledge of the affected areas. For Sherap, he would call hotel owners that he knew from motorcycle tours and ask them what they needed, how badly people were affected, and if there was an accessible road for them to get there. He would then post that information on Facebook to let others know.  Within the next four days, he would get supplies from friends in India and would be off to the villages in need.

Understanding of the culture and language of Nepal also played a huge role in their nimble response. According to the 2011 Nepalese Census, 123 languages are spoken in Nepal. Sherap speaks 9 of these, helping him to communicate quickly with those in need. Additionally, knowledge of the complex caste system in Nepal helped Sherap and his friends identify priority towns, know with whom to speak within communities, and identify those who may be voiceless. For example, when Ang learned from his local connections that a delivery of rice had been given to a household that already had significant stockpiles, he had the rice recalled and given to a household that had none. Most agencies may have just walked away, checking the household off their distribution list off, but here, local insight directed this limited resource most appropriately.

Lessons Learned

Local knowledge, generosity, local language and culture, and deep-seated compassion are priceless in any situation, and particularly during disasters. Ang and Sherap were able to spring into action the moment the earthquake hit using their connections and knowledge to understand where the most affected areas were and what was needed. They mobilized resources from clients and partners around the world to effectively and efficiently deliver aid to those most in need.

emBOLDen Alliances has endorsed the Charter4Change and vigorously works toward strengthening local community-driven solutions, embracing the development-crisis nexus.

For more information, please contact info[at]emboldenalliances.org.

Acknowledgements:

Emily Lawrence, Ang Tshering Lama, Sherap Sherpa, Jiban Ghimire, Liesl Clark, Julie Hull, Jake Norton, Bill, Rohs, Matt Murray, Patti Bonnet, Neena Jain, and ALL of the scores of individuals who contributed to the P2P4N and emBOLDen Alliances’ Nepal response.

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