How disaster preparedness helped save lives in Nepal

Disasters, Humanitarian

When the Nepal earthquake hit in April 2015 the devastation was huge. Having earthquake contingency plans has made a big difference in enabling Oxfam to respond rapidly and at scale. Here Lisa Rutherford explains why preparation made such a difference and why further disaster risk reduction planning is a crucial part of the  long-term recovery and reconstruction work in Nepal.

In April, I was part of the humanitarian team joining colleagues in Nepal following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that left the country reeling. Over 8,000 people were killed, 18,000 injured and 2.8 million people left without homes. Just 17 days later, a second powerful earthquake struck again wreaking more panic, destruction and loss.

Whilst it could be argued that no amount of disaster preparedness will ever be enough to keep pace with the increasing risk, there are practical steps that can be taken both to build capacity and strengthen communities. Oxfam has been working with local partners for over 30 years in Nepal and together with the Department for International Development (DFiD), we contributed to disaster risk reduction programmes that proved vital for our response.

Disaster risk reduction is vital

…we contributed to disaster risk reduction programmes that proved vital for our response.Oxfam stored essential water and sanitation equipment at four locations around Kathmandu. These crates filled with water tanks, emergency toilets, water buckets and hygiene kits meant that our teams could immediately begin to set up facilities and distribute materials in the many camps that sprang up across the city in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

I accompanied two trucks heaving with 1,000 hygiene kits as they travelled out to the village of Sankhu. Homes here had been ripped apart, with families and neighbours huddled either in the ruins or under very basic improvised shelters. Water borne diseases are often rife after a disaster, with little or no access to clean water. Providing families with basic hygiene items such as water buckets and purification tablets can help prevent this.

Responding quickly and at scale

One of Oxfam’s bladder tanks – an inflatable water tank which can hold an incredible 10,000 litres – and emergency toilets were transported out to the village of Chautara, in the remote region of Sindhupalchok. Nepal’s outer districts were particularly hard hit, as homes in the poorer rural areas are mainly constructed with cheap materials such as mud, bamboo and wood. Being able to reach people in this remote area, where the playing field had been turned into a field hospital, was essential as the water system infrastructure in the village had been badly damaged.

“Oxfam installed an earthquake proof water borehole which meant if our water supply had been disrupted, we could still operate”Hundreds of Oxfam trained community health volunteers sprang into action to deliver and construct water and sanitation equipment in both central Kathmandu and the outer districts. This network of support meant that we could reach thousands of people quickly and provide the basic humanitarian aid that was so desperately needed. It was moving to see these volunteers work as many of
them had been personally affected, yet were still turning up to help.

Oxfam has also worked as part of a consortium led by the World Health Organisation that has helped make the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu the most earthquake-resilient in the country. We met the inspirational Dr Pradeep Vaidya there, who explained why hospital staff were able to treat people injured within 20 minutes on the day of the first earthquake.

“Our staff were all fully trained as to how the hospital would operate in such an emergency. We had a disaster plan and everyone knew how the hospital would be divided up to treat casualties. We had containers onsite filled with extra emergency supplies and this was vital to ensure we could treat everybody. Oxfam installed an earthquake proof water borehole which meant if our water supply had been disrupted, we could still operate. Our supply wasn’t damaged, but this meant we didn’t need to take any of the emergency water being trucked and freed it up for other hospitals
who did.”

Five months on, the long-term recovery and reconstruction is underway. It is absolutely crucial that the government – with the help of donors – build national, district and local capacity for disaster risk reduction. I saw firsthand the difference that planning and building capacity made. The people of Nepal deserve nothing less.


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Photo: Oxfam volunteer Shekhou Khadka (23) works to off load latrines being delivered to the Tundikhel IDP camp in Kathmandu, Nepal. Credit: Aubrey Wade / Oxfam

Author: Lisa Rutherford
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.