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Citizen-led initiatives support earthquake survivors


A woman from Singla village extracts her belongings from the rubble. Asian Development Bank under a Creative Commons Licence

It has been 2 months since I visited Kathmandu, Nepal and 3 months since the April earthquake struck the Himalayan country.

But months after the disaster happened, Nepal continues to need help.

Many think this is no longer the case, yet as the Philippines experienced when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck in November 2013, help and global attention can wane in the months following a disaster, so continued giving to those in need is vitally important.

In Nepal, concerned citizens created the online Red Tree initiative which I learned about while visiting the country in May.

The Red Tree initiative, established to help the most vulnerable victims of the earthquake, is an offspring of a similar citizen-driven approach, the With Love project, which provides nutritional packages to mothers and newborn children.

Dipti Sherchan, one of the founders of the Red Tree initiative, says it is particularly focused on providing support to marginalized communities who were mostly missed during the relief process. According to the website, it is ‘a citizen-driven collaboration established to help the most vulnerable victims of the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal – members of the “untouchable” Dalit caste, female-led households, and single-mother families.’ The website also identifies pregnant and postnatal women and their infants who are in need of nutritional and medical support.

The help extended by the Red Tree project varies. For example, it provided 3 months’ rent to a single mother so that she could move into undamaged housing.

Another woman, Lediya, fell sick with pneumonia and the Red Tree initiative was able to cover the expenses for her trip to the doctor and pay for her medicine.

The project has also been able to assist a 15-year-old Dalit boy to relocate from his village in order to pursue further study and avoid having to leave school for employment. He has arrived in Kathmandu, been given a space in a boys’ hostel and will be attending school soon.

The Red Tree was also able to provide 10 bags of rice to the Humanitarian Concern Center, an orphanage in northern Kathmandu. This orphanage is not only run by members of the Dalit community, but also serves 21 Dalit children who have lost their parents. As the Red Tree website explains, the initiative is ‘now fundraising to help Humanitarian Concern Center build their own housing. Before the earthquake, their landlord requested them to find another location. As such, they purchased some land in the area. Their current housing has also been damaged by the earthquake, so the need to build their own center is even more pressing.’

Dipti Sherchan says that With Love will also continue if people with accurate data approach them.

'We have realized that what earthquake did was just bring out the stark disparity in the access different communities have to relief and rebuilding,' she says. The group is now raising funds for the project.

‘This initiative is very low-key, modest, and pretty much happens on person-to-person basis,’ Dipti explains.

Oxfam has said that in the aftermath of the earthquake, tens of thousands of people are still living outdoors in makeshift shelters, even as the monsoon season intensifies. Food shortages have been reported and relief efforts are being further hampered by ongoing rain and flash floods. The British-based organization urged the international community to continue supporting the Nepalese government to grasp a golden opportunity to rebuild the country and make it more resilient to future disasters.

The earthquake struck on 25 April, killing over 8,700 people and leaving almost 800,000 homes either damaged or completely destroyed. While rebuilding cannot happen overnight, it can happen sooner if enough help is given to get the country back on its feet. Then the Nepalese can rebuild not just their homes but also their lives.

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