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Monday, 04 May 2015 05:00

The Nepal Earthquake

Written by  Vicki Thomas

Vicki-article-Nepal-webOn April 25 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal, killing over 7,000 people and leaving many more people homeless, injured, sick, and stranded with nothing. The images that we’re seeing on television and online are shocking and heart-wrenching.

People - individuals, government, aid agencies, and many others are working hard to help the citizens of Nepal. Donations at local charities. Government aid in the form of delivery of supplies, cash to help rebuild, food, and medicine are being organized. Aid agencies are mobilizing and trying to get into to Nepal to help those most hard-hit by this earthquake.

This is what happens during a natural disaster. People get organized. They feel helpless here at home, so they donate to charities and read all they can about what is happening. Governments send in their disaster support teams and commit to helping the impacted area recover and rebuild. Aid agencies send in their most-skilled doctors, healthcare workers, construction crews and others to work on the ground helping people to survive and recover.

This all sounds great on the surface… People helping people. Governments recognizing that there is another country suffering and helping out. Aid agencies following through on their mandate and making sure that they’re doing all they can.

But what happens when this can’t happen? This is what is happening right now in Nepal. Yes, people are getting help and aid. But so many are not getting the help and assistance they need. Part of this is due to the challenges of travelling into and around Nepal. Before this natural disaster, things like travel, communication, and transport were challenging and not what we here in North America are used to. But now these hurdles are exacerbated, slowing everything down to a crawl or worse stalling the help, aid and assistance.

Now along with the images of crushed buildings, wandering children, people sleeping outside because they’re afraid of entering their broken down homes, we see photos and video from the national airport and border crossings showing piles and piles of food, supplies and other hard goods.

Rules and regulations are preventing help from happening. Rules and regulations that people have been trained to follow at all times are stopping those who need help most from getting it. Rules and regulations are preventing governments, aid agencies, and others from following-through on their jobs, mandates and commitments.

Relief supplies for earthquake victims have been piling up at the airport and in warehouses here because of bureaucratic interference by Nepalese authorities who insist that standard customs inspections and other procedures be followed, even in an emergency, officials with Western governments and aid organizations said on Sunday.

“The bottleneck was the fact that the bureaucratic procedures were just so heavy,” Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations resident coordinator, said in an interview. “So many layers of government and so many departments involved, so many different line ministries involved. We don’t need goods sitting in Kathmandu warehouses. We don’t need goods sitting at the airport. We need them up in the affected areas.” (nytimes.com)

So what does this mean? Are rules and regulations supposed to be ignored at times of crisis? Which rules and regulations are ignored? Should there be a second set of rules and regulations for when a disaster does occur? How do you implement these secondary set of rules and regulations?

Along with the stalled aid on the ground in Nepal, there are also problems with the country’s airport. Because the airport was not built to support large airplanes, many of the planes carrying aid and support have been turned around. Who is responsible for know what types of planes can be landed at the airport? Is that up to the governments and aid agencies who are organizing and bringing in the aid or is up to the Nepalese government to communicate these restrictions? How do the correct messages get out to the right people at the right time?

Medium and small jets will still be allowed to land, but the airport has room for nine on the tarmac at any one time, creating a further bottleneck in supply. The airport’s manager, Birendra Shrestha, said: “The runway was built to handle only medium-sized jets and not the large military and cargo planes that have been arriving since the quake.” (independednt.co.uk)

More than a week after the earthquake, the citizens of Nepal are still scrambling and trying to dig for survivors. People are left homeless. Travellers and tourists are stranded. The ramifications and fall-out of this earthquake that we can see on television and online are stark and harsh. But what of the fall-out that we can’t see? The problems and cracks that are happening under the surface.

The bureaucracy and political machinery in Nepal are unusually independent of each other, which has mostly been a good thing over the past 10 years as the political process has been paralyzed by squabbling. Bureaucracy officials, however, take their jobs very seriously, and some might fear that if they do not document all aid distributions, they could later face accusations that they kept the goods for themselves. (nytimes.com)

There are no clear answers here. What would you do? What would your business do? How would you react? Consider how you’re prepared for something like this? How can you plan and prepare for everything?

To read more about the earthquake in Nepal and the situation surrounding aid, news coverage, and the current situation, follow these links: