Story by Denver, Colorado Communications Team
Following the earthquake in Nepal, at least 50 Colorado residents who have ties to Nepal and surrounding countries gathered at the Asian Pacific Development Center in Aurora to seek information about international relief efforts.
Colorado Red Cross staff presented about Red Cross efforts in response to the earthquake, how people here can help, and how they can use Red Cross Restoring Family Links services to contact loved ones in the affected areas.
The global Red Cross network, led by the Nepal Red Cross and supported by the American Red Cross, has mounted an international response to provide emergency humanitarian assistance. The Nepal Red Cross is providing first aid, search and rescue, blood to medical facilities in the capital and support to first responders.
The American Red Cross has committed an initial $1,000,000 to the relief operation and is working closely with the Nepal Red Cross and the global Red Cross network to coordinate additional support, including mobilizing supplies and providing remote mapping and information management. The American Red Cross is arranging supplies from its warehouses in Kuala Lumpar and Dubai, including non-food items such as tarps, buckets, kitchen sets and blankets to be sent to Nepal -- although logistical transport remains a challenge.
Members of the audience raised their concerns about getting supplies to the families who need help, wondering how they could send tents from Colorado and whether relief supplies are “stuck” at the airport. Our local Red Cross staff answered candidly: mailing supplies, in small quantities, from this far away, is not the most efficient way to help those in Nepal – it is more cost effective and efficient for aid agencies to get tarps, tents and other high-demand supplies by purchasing them in bulk from the nearest source to the disaster, or by receiving them as bulk donations.
According to USAID, cash donations are the best way to help following a disaster because they entail no transportation costs, no delays, no customs and other fees, no carbon footprint and they do not divert relief workers’ time. In addition, cash donations allow relief supplies to be purchased in markets close to the disaster site, which stimulates local economies by stabilizing employment and generating cash flow. Few material donations have this highly beneficial impact.
In terms of delivering supplies, it can be challenging to reach survivors when infrastructure is destroyed, damaged – or never existed. Accessibility and transportation are challenging in Nepal in the best of times. Before the earthquake, many rural communities where the Nepal Red Cross worked were only accessible by foot. The main international airport in Kathmandu is a very basic facility. With the destruction, this situation is even more dire and getting supplies and transporting them within country is going to be a major challenge.
One way the American Red Cross is helping to alleviate this challenge is through mapping and information management. The public can help, too. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can help map the affected areas through OpenStreetMap. Already, more than 2,000 people have contributed to the maps. Visit http://tasks.hotosm.org to get started.
After disasters strike, updated maps are extremely important to emergency responders. These maps help us measure the damage, identify priority areas, navigate our way around damaged roadways, and more efficiently deliver aid to people in need. When we deployed people to Nepal, we sent them with maps to use and share with other Red Cross team members on the ground.
Although many of the people who attended the meeting were most concerned about how they can help Nepal, Red Cross workers were also focused on how we can help alleviate their anxiety and fear by helping them reconnect with loved ones in Nepal and the affected areas.
The Red Cross workers explained how residents here in Colorado can initiate a family tracing case for loved ones whose whereabouts are unknown, and how we will be offering phone call services for those who know their loved ones are OK but don’t have a means to call them from Denver.
Find out more about the ongoing Red Cross response to the Nepal Earthquake at redcross.org. For individuals looking for family who live in the affected area, visit http://familylinks.icrc.org/nepal-earthquake. Help is also available for those who can't access the web site by calling 202-303-1600.