A few people have been in touch about the Nepal earthquake asking me to recommend a charity to donate to. This is a difficult question to answer, because it depends on personal preferences and priorities, and a whole range of other factors. I know a little about Nepal, and though I’m no expert on disaster response, I’ll do my best to answer this question and stand corrected by others who know better.
Nepal desperately needs our help. It was a fragile country with a poorly developed infrastructure before this tragedy, and now its weaknesses have been magnified a thousandfold. In the last few days I’ve been in touch with people in Kathmandu and at Everest Base Camp, and I wouldn’t like to say which of these places I would rather be. From my position of safety and security I can only imagine what they are going through.
In Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourist heart, most shops and restaurants are closed because they have structural damage, no power and no water. Embassies have opened their gardens as mini refugee centres. A friend of mine who works at the British Embassy is sleeping there with her husband, 4-year-old son and dog. People are afraid to sleep indoors for fear of aftershocks. Most buildings are not earthquake-proof and many were built without steel reinforcement bars. Inhabitants have no way of knowing if theirs is safe.
— UNOCHA (@UNOCHA) April 29, 2015
There is still no power in many parts of the Kathmandu Valley. Power lines are buried under mountains of debris, and nobody knows when they will be serviceable again. Many of the people who would have carried out the work have returned home to their villages, concerned about their families and with little desire to work.
I have friends still at Everest Base Camp, unsure of what they will find when they leave, and with nowhere to stay if they manage to get back to Kathmandu. Within its dramatic mountain amphitheatre, base camp is usually a place of refuge and security for climbers, but this year giant avalanches have been pouring off its surrounding peaks, and people are terrified of being engulfed every time there is another tremor.
We know a lot about Kathmandu and Everest Base Camp, but very little about the hundreds of villages hidden in inaccessible valleys. Those lucky enough to be accessible by road before the weekend no longer are. It will be a long time before the full scale of the tragedy is known, and we may never know for sure how many casualties there have been. Many people work as porters, travelling on foot. They set off for their destination on Saturday, and somewhere along the way they went missing. Many bodies will never be found. The destruction wreaked in Nepal’s mountainous rural areas can best be summed up in this one photo.
Before I start my suggestions of how to help, here are a couple of things you shouldn’t do.
Firstly, please don’t think of sending anything other than money. Sending boxes of stuff, although well-meaning, actually hampers the work of relief workers by piling up, needing to be sifted through, and getting in the way of supplies that have been ordered. There are many articles by aid workers lamenting what they call the tsunami of stuff that accompanies every emergency. You may have seen appeals for equipment over the last few days, but they are always very specific and come with strict criteria. Here’s an example list of guidelines from the mountaineer and photographer Jake Norton, who has offered to put carriers in touch with distributors on the ground.
Secondly, do your research and be sure of the reputation of whoever you donate to. Giving to the wrong people also makes things worse, and with millions of dollars flying towards Nepal there are plenty of sharks eager for their slice. Top of this particular list is the Nepalese government itself. There is a growing body of opinion that unmonitored international aid has actually harmed Nepal’s development, rather than helped it, by fuelling widespread corruption.
We mountaineers know all about this. We pay sizeable permit fees and salaries for liaison officers who pocket their money and never show up for work. Everest is crying out for regulation and support services, but what infrastructure there is has come through private enterprise. This is one tiny thread in a vast web of government corruption. Don’t give money to a charity if you think they may hand a good portion of it directly to government officials.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) April 28, 2015
Phew, that’s quite a few words without a single positive recommendation, but these things need to be said. Now here’s the important bit.
With the scale of the disaster unfolding, often the best people to respond in the first instance are the major international organisations and charities who specialise in disaster response. I could reel off a list of these, but this won’t help you, so please bear in mind these recommendations are very selective, and there are many alternatives who would be equally effective.
Here in the UK I recommend the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Nepal Earthquake Appeal. DEC is an umbrella organisation which pools the resources of 13 major UK international development charities in times of crisis, including the British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children. You can read more about DEC here.
There are many equivalent organisations and charities outside the UK, and you will know those in your country better than I do. If you are outside the UK then for personal reasons one I would like to recommend is the World Food Programme (WFP), who have their own emergency appeal for the Nepal earthquake. Edita works in logistics for them, and she is frequently sent to disaster zones in response to emergencies. She was at Everest Base Camp when the earthquake struck, and although these things are relative, she was one of the lucky ones. When she gets back to Kathmandu she will be attached to their Nepal relief effort, bringing assistance to a country she has grown to love.
All of these organisations have the resources to respond to the wider emergency across Nepal. If you are a trekker or a tourist who has travelled in the Khumbu and enjoyed the cheerful smiles and sense of humour of the Sherpas, then you may like to consider the Himalayan Trust, the charity Sir Edmund Hillary set up to build schools and hospitals in the region after making the first ascent of Everest in 1953. It has been one of Nepal’s most effective charities, and many Sherpas educated in its schools have gone onto have successful careers outside of trekking and mountaineering, a goal close to the hearts of all of us who have climbed mountains on the back of Sherpa sweat and tears.
Many homes have been destroyed in the Khumbu. Although the Himalayan Trust’s online donation form doesn’t specifically state disaster relief, they have set up an Earthquake Disaster Fund, and I assume some of your donation will go towards it.
You may be wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned CHANCE, the charity I am a trustee for, whose logo sits at the bottom of this blog post pleading for donations. CHANCE is not equipped to provide disaster relief, and if you’re planning to give a donation in the hope it will go directly to the emergency response effort, then the charities I have mentioned above would be more appropriate. However, CHANCE will remain in Nepal after the emergency response has ended, and its people should not be forgotten once the crisis is over. CHANCE provides sustainable aid for education in several areas of Nepal, and we will gladly take your donation for use in the longer term.
Other charities who don’t specialise in disaster relief, but operate in Nepal and may appeal to mountaineers and trekkers, are Community Action Nepal (CAN) and the Juniper Fund. CAN was set up 17 years ago by the mountaineering legend Doug Scott, and works in mountain communities to provide health and education. It has a particular interest in porter welfare. There is also a link on its website with the very arresting title What does CAN do? which sounds like a lyric from a Cole Porter song. The Juniper Fund was set up more recently with the very specific aim of supporting the families of Nepalese mountain workers who have been injured or killed in the course of duty.
These are a few personal thoughts of mine, and there are many effective charities I’ve not mentioned. Whoever you choose to support, please give as little or as much as you can, and even if you can’t afford anything you can still help by sharing, tweeting and posting to ensure the plight of the Nepalese is not forgotten.
Update, Sunday 3 May, 2015
One of the worst hit regions in Nepal has been Langtang, a popular trekking destination north of Kathmandu. Langtang village was wiped off the map, hundreds of villagers were killed and around 70 western trekkers are still missing, presumed dead. A group of scientists who were working in the area are now raising money to rebuild. If you are a keen trekker you may like to make a pledge to the Rebuild Langtang appeal.
Important note regarding the Prime Minister’s relief fund. Many people have been concerned about an announcement by the Nepal government that donations had to be diverted via their central relief fund, hence fuelling the corruption I spoke about above. This only applies to a handful of Nepali organisations set up specifically for earthquake relief, and not to existing charities. All is explained in this article from the Nepali Times. Please don’t halt your donations – just ensure you donate to the right people.