“Nepal’s civil society must be involved and included in both the first, critical relief efforts and the rebuilding of the country”
“It is unfortunately not possible to reach all those in need in the first, critical stage after an earthquake. Often there are natural constraints like casualties and destruction that prevent national as well as international aid from reaching all in the first days”.
Must avoid double work
Through his work in UN and other humanitarian organisations, Jan Egeland has played a key role in the international reponse to the biggest natural disasters in the world over the past two decades.
Egeland points out that since the tsunami in 2004, the international response to major disasters has improved significantly and become more efficient. However, certain fundamental mistakes are still repeated.
“We must avoid an unnecessary high number of organisations occupying the airport, transport capasity and other resources that are often limited in a disaster area. It is also important to ensure good coordination in order to prevent double work. Professional organisations that have lifesaving equipment, experience and contacts in the country must be prioritised”, he said.
“It is also important that the professionals have the right focus. The UN and other international aid organisations must quickly find out how they can support local organisations and local networks to do their relief work even better”, he emphasises.
Weak state, strong civil society
Requests keep coming in to NRC’s emergency roster NORCAP from the UN for experts to the relief efforts in Nepal.
“We have six people in place in Nepal now, and more are on the way, says NORCAP director Benedicte Giæver, stressing increased focus on civil society in disaster-stricken countries.
NORCAP also contributed personnel to the emergency responses after the tsunami in 2004, the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.
“We have too often seen that many of the major international organisations are most concerned about what they can deliver of emergency relief, and that they do not include local organisations in their work”, says Giæver.
“In Nepal, the state is weak after many years of civil war and poverty, but the country has a strong civil society. Local aid organisations have experience, knowledge and contacts, which are a huge advantage in all phases of the relief effort. Our personnel are always taking this into account and aim to include local civil society as much as possible, she emphasises.
Preparedness saves lives
Giæver adds that this also must apply in the rebuilding of the affected areas.
“Reconstruction will take time, and it is important that it is carried out in a way that ensures improved emergency preparedness. In a poor country like Nepal, civil society plays a very important role in building preparedness and resilience to future earthquakes, says Giæver, pointing out that Nepal is located in a vulnerable area with high seismic activity.
“We know a lot about how we can reduce deaths as a consequence of earthquake”.
Prevention in the form of good warning systems, preventive urban planning and robust building structures is important to reduce the death toll and destruction of natural disasters.
“Mortality has declined in natural disasters because local organisations are better prepared, while the international effort has become much better in assisting the affected countries’ own governments and civil society in their own relief efforts”, says Jan Egeland.