Responding Effectively to Disaster

On April 25, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the country of Nepal. More than 4,600 people lost their lives, thousands more were injured, and much of the nation remains at risk from disease, a lack of basic supplies, and from tremendous psychological trauma. As we’ve seen with other disasters elsewhere in the world, the governmental infrastructures in Nepal are proving inadequate, unprepared for this disaster, and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of global generosity. Essential materials, including shelter, food, medicine, and water are backing up in warehouses and at the airport instead of reaching the people and communities where they are needed the most.

As was done in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 disasters in Pakistan and Haiti, and the 2014 typhoon in the Philippines, the trustees of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund have decided to direct significant resources totaling $250,000 to Nepal earthquake relief. Drawing on lessons learned from past disaster response funding, the dollars will be released in two stages; an initial grant of $100,000 will be directed to first responders, and a second grant of $150,000 will go to organizations critical to the longer-term recovery of Nepal.

First Stage: First Responders

Past experience has shaped our approach to funding first responders. In this situation, given a fragile and untested central government, we have prioritized getting funds to more nimble organizations with deep roots in Nepal and ties to particularly vulnerable populations. As we have no expertise in this region, and do not want to burden grassroots organizations administratively, we are partnering with a trusted intermediary, American Jewish World Services (AJWS). AJWS will immediately distribute the Fund’s $100,000 grant to a network of five on-the-ground relief organizations in Nepal*, each capable of delivering urgently needed medical assistance and basic necessities.

Second Stage: Recover & Rebuild

Generous outpourings of support tend to be our natural first reaction to news of tragedy, and deservedly so. As the initial waves of tragedy settle, however, the need for assistance does not. Yet often the attention of the world moves on. Emergency assistance is critical, but so is assistance with rebuilding homes, businesses, communities, and lives. The second stage of our funding—totaling $150,000—will be directed to those organizations most effectively involved in the recovery and rebuilding efforts in Nepal. What that aid will look like and the time period over which it will be distributed has yet to become clear. We will listen carefully to our colleagues in philanthropy and in the disaster response community about how events are unfolding, and seek their advice as to which organizations are poised to make a real difference in Nepal’s recovery.

Focusing on Preparedness

If we’ve learned nothing else in all these years, it is that disasters of this scale are both hyper-local and global in impact. While there is more emergency infrastructure in the U.S., a significant earthquake would result in tremendous damage, loss, and upheaval locally. Its shock waves and longer-term impact would also be felt around the world.

wehfDisasterFoodSystemsAs global citizens, the trustees of the W&EHF believe deeply in our responsibility to respond to the Nepalese earthquake and other disasters taking place far from our primary focus in the Bay Area. We pair this belief, though, with sustained support and advocacy for increasing our local communities’ ability to prepare for disaster, again with a focus on the most vulnerable amongst us. We hope that our colleagues in philanthropy will do the same wherever they are, and in whatever parts of the world that they work.

Preparedness does not stave off earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, and other disasters, be they natural or man-made – but, when disaster hits, preparedness can alleviate real human suffering, and provide a base on which individuals, families, and communities can rebuild and thrive.

* AJWS partners include:

  • International Medical Corps: operating two Medical Mobile Units that treat approximately 200 people per day in Gorkha, Nepal
  • The Blue Diamond Society: an LGBT group providing rescue, relief, and rehabilitation support to HIV positive LGBT Nepalis affected by the disaster
  • Friends of Shanta Bhawan: providing free medical services, food, and safe drinking water to a very impoverished community hit hard by the earthquake
  • Himalayan Healthcare: distributing about four tons of rice daily and mobilizing a medical team able to reach remote areas
  • Tewa: providing pregnant mothers with food, water, medical care, and blankets

Follow these organizations on our twitter list to stay up to date with their efforts.

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