If you want to help Nepal, please donate cash. Now is not time to rush to the rescue as a volunteer… yet.
Certainly, volunteers have a place in disaster recovery, but done incorrectly, volunteers can do more harm than good as was witnessed after the Haiti earthquake. At this time, if you really want to help with disaster recovery in the days after the earthquake, the best thing you can do is donate to a reputable organization that already has people on the ground (here is a list of ethical organizations).
The following is just a short list of reasons why rushing overseas to volunteer in Nepal might do more harm than good at this time:
You Can Drive up Costs
When everyone wants to go to Nepal to help that means prices will go up on everything. The cost for airfare, hotels, in-country transportation, food, and water – all of which are in short supply – will rise because of increased demand.
You Will Strain a Strained Infrastructure
After disasters, the internal infrastructure is severely strained. This means the roads, walkways, sewage lines, water lines, internet, cellular capacity, and electricity are often broken or terribly limited. An influx of people will put even more strain on the limited infrastructure and possible limit the ability of those in more need taking a back seat. The Guardian wrote about this after the Haiti earthquake.
Your Money Can Do More Than Your Time… For Now
At MovingWorlds, we often claim that the great asset you have is your time and your brain, but in disaster situations that isn’t always true. According to the Center for International Disaster Information
“Monetary contributions to established relief agencies are always the best way to help [in disaster situations].”
Save Yourself for When the Need is Greatest
In the not too distance future, media will turn its attention elsewhere and the desire to help Nepal will diminish. When it does, that is when your time and talents will be needed the most. Philanthropic contributions will go elsewhere, aid dollars will seize, and local organizations will no longer have access to resources needed to sustain development. Just look at the persistent challenges of Haiti 5 years after its massive receipt of aid money.
Once the money is gone and aid organizations have moved to fight the next disaster, then locally-led organizations will begin the true rebuilding efforts of Nepal. Teachers will teach, entrepreneurs will emerge, and local businesses will create jobs. When this starts to happen, that is when you should visit and volunteer your skills in Nepal. In the future is when we need your help to tackle the “talent gap” – the idea that local citizens know best what their country needs, but can use some technical, business, and/or creative skills to make a bigger impact, faster. Be patient, your time will and then you can truly make a sustainable impact.
How Do You Know if You Are an Exception to this Rule?
If you have to ask, you’re not an exception. The volunteers that are on their way to Nepal right now already have training in disaster response, they often have previous experience, and they have been briefed on the true needs of the country. There is a science to solving the health, infrastructure, political, energy, and people management aspects of disasters, and how to respond to them. If you haven’t been trained on those, you’re not an exception to this rule.
We firmly believe that everyone can volunteer their skills overseas and that there is a way to have world-positive vacations, but we also know that there is a right and wrong way to volunteer. If you are interested in helping Nepal, please donate money, and ask your friends to donate, too. If you want to do more, hold a local fundraiser for cash (not supplies) and/or keep your eyes open for virtual volunteering projects in the coming days across media channels and through aid organizations already on the ground.