Nepal: Disaster threats linger one year after major quake
One year after a devastating, 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, the threat from natural disasters continues to hang over Nepal. Handicap International is pressing for increased funding to help communities and local authorities prepare for future disasters.
“It is no longer possible to concentrate humanitarian assistance on emergency response alone,” notes Sarah Blin, director of Handicap International Nepal. “Disaster Risk Reduction, or DRR, is vital in a country that’s highly exposed to an unpredictable climate and earthquakes.”
Indeed, the frequency of deadly and disabling earthquakes, floods, and landslides are on the rise. In 2016, Nepal ranked among the 15 countries at most risk of humanitarian crises and disasters, according to the Index for Risk Management, a global risk assessment for humanitarian disaster published by a partner network including the European Union and key United Nations agencies. Global warming and the movement of tectonic plates are expected to cause major disasters in the coming decades.
Since 2003, the Nepalese government and humanitarian organizations like Handicap International have implemented a range of national and local DRR measures, including early warning systems and community simulations, the training of communities in risk assessment, search and rescue techniques, first aid, and pre-positioned emergency stock management.
Since 2008, the Nepal team has run $2.38 million in risk reduction projects, which included vital training for 233 health and rehabilitation professionals. And it’s paid off: the DRR work was relevant and effective at saving lives, Blin notes.
Medical staff training reduced the incidence of death and long-term disabilities, according to a December 2015 report about the care and treatment of earthquake casualties. Of particular note, the number of amputations performed on casualties was limited, thanks to the manuals and care protocol developed by Handicap International, and widely distributed to medical teams. The authors also found improved patient diagnosis, sorting and referral, the availability of medication, surgical instruments and mobility aids, and the adoption of treatment protocols, which help prevent unnecessary amputations.
The earthquake in 2015, and the floods of 2014, put the relevance of these prevention activities to the test. In the case of the earthquake, local teams were able to launch their response within four hours, release pre-positioned emergency stocks that same evening, and doctors and health personnel were well trained to repair earthquake injuries, rather than to rush to amputations.
But the disasters also exposed serious weaknesses, and highlighted critical shortcomings that, if fixed, would enhance prevention, as well as the resilience of at-risk populations in future disasters:
- DRR activities do not receive adequate funding relative to needs and the variety of actions to implement. There is a significant gap between the budgets allocated to DRR and those earmarked for humanitarian action, in general. This imbalance reflects the state of global financing for DRR.
- People receive inadequate local assistance and training. Local communities must be better trained to handle the consequences of a disaster on their own (pre-positioning of supplies, training for medical staff, etc.). This will require major changes to current legal and operational frameworks.
- Financing is concentrated on local risks, and not enough is invested in large-scale disaster risks, particularly in urban areas.
- Certain activities are neglected by funding bodies, despite proving effective after the 2015 earthquake. This is particularly the case for health system preparation actions, which help improve the care and treatment of injuries.
- Specialist emergency response teams, which arrive immediately after a disaster, must account for the existing DRR expertise to be more effective, and to complement local skills.
“Risk preparation actions can no longer be the poor relation of emergency assistance,” Blin says. “We need to systematically take a more balanced approach to the three complementary components of humanitarian assistance: preparation, emergency and post-emergency. That’s what is going to make a big difference.”
Increased financing for natural disaster risk reduction projects is vital; sustainable DRR activities in local communities and isolated areas should be implemented; and the preparation activities and medical team training to manage large-scale casualties should be a priority.
Since the April 25 earthquake, Handicap International’s Nepal team helped 6,200 people recover from injuries through rehabilitation. Providing 16,000 rehabilitation and psychosocial sessions, and more than 4,700 crutches, wheelchairs, and artificial limbs, the local team ensured that people new injuries, and disabilities, received access to the care and devices they needed to regain their independence, and helped them avoid further complications, like gangrene, or poor bone alignment.
About Handicap International
Handicap International is an independent international aid organization. Its teams have operated projects in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 34 years. Working alongside persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs and improving their living conditions. Since it was founded in 1982, Handicap International has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. More than 3,500 people currently work for the organization. Handicap International is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, the 1996 Nansen Refugee Award, and the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.