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On May 20, 2015, the Harvard Alumni Group in Nepal held its monthly meeting in Kathmandu. The members shared their stories of involvement in rescue and relief operations, and shared lessons and recommendations learned during the earthquakes.

Summary of these recommendations are as follows:

Government coordination:
Immediately after the tremor, state machinery, notably the police and other security personal, had already started their engagement in rescue operations. However, coordination was the major problem. In the initial stage, the civilian part of the government was not visible. There was a gap in information-flow regarding the damage, loss, priority, processes, etc, and no one was giving any proper response.

Participants at the meeting praised the critical role of all security officials (army and police) played in rescue efforts. Through this response, they were able to re-establish their credibility with the people.  The civil part of the government’s existence has been questioned. There was a coordination gap between the civilian and security part of the government. The existing legislative and institutional environment to respond to disasters is insufficient and incomplete. The law needs to be totally reviewed to face the newer challenges. A separate entity with enough mandate, scope, resources and accountability is urgently needed to deal with the national disaster in an integrated way.

Though the level of credibility of the government is questioned, it will be encouraging to support the reconstruction and rehabilitation resources through the PM relief fund mechanisms. However, an inclusive and strong monitoring mechanism should be in place to oversee the resource mobilization.

It has also been felt that rescue, relief, and other programs would have been far better if the locally-elected bodies were in place. Government should give top priority to conducting the local level elections immediately after the rainy season. A strong rumor management mechanism needs to be in place during such crisis time. A crisis communication cell could be operated within the ministry of information and communications.

Immediate relief:
It was noted during the meeting that the traditional prepared package for immediate relief (rice, bitten rice, noodles, utensils etc) does not cater to the need of the people with difficult circumstance, nor that of women, children, and elderly people.  In the later stage, some institutions took initiative to support their specific needs by providing sanitary pads, baby foods, etc.

Construction and shelter:
Realizing the massive resources needed during the rehabilitation and construction phase, maintaining the quality of construction would remain a big challenge. In addition to other measures, YCNC could be engaged and encouraged to handle it.

At present, the building code is applied only within the urban areas; however, present experience shows that such code should cover the whole country, both urban and rural. One of the top priorities of the government should be to immediately develop the land use map before it begins massive reconstruction programs.

Furthermore, in the next couple of weeks, Nepal will face heavy rain and landslides which will make life much more difficult. So, a top priority of the government should be in providing shelter which can save lives during heavy rainfall.

Youth mobilization and media:
Youth mobilization was amazing and they were seen everywhere volunteering, which is an encouraging trend. Everyone’s participation in rescue and other follow-ups was exemplary. Particularly in remote areas, communities worked well to save the others. Media, especially social media, played key role in dissemination as well as in bridging the gap areas for support. Radio Nepal was 24 hours available even during the major shock.

Other vulnerable areas:
Trafficking of women and children is another vulnerable area where immediate focus is urgently needed. In addition to the loss of family members and property, another major loss to the survivors was the loss of critical documents. These include the citizenship certificates, passports, land ownership certificates, etc. which might create problems to the citizen in the future. Moving forward, there is a possibility of groups creating false documents, which would deprive the marginalized population of their property and other rights.

Positive outcomes:
Efforts made by various Harvard alums in rescue, relief works, mobilization of  resources, and support in developing tools  such as GIS tracking system for vital information, design of low cost houses/shelters, etc. have been highly appreciated. Suggestions were also made to design and use an open data system which could be effective in generating accurate information. It was also felt that the government failed in providing correct and positive information to the people.

This tremor has also helped in creating some positive outcomes. The country is united in dealing with this disaster, irrespective of geography, ethnicity, or capacity. Political parties have been able to minimize their differences and come together to tackle this massive disaster. It is also noted that the government’s credibility is too low and the intensity of the disaster was beyond the national capacity. The immediate response from the international community in rescue, relief, and resource mobilization was encouraging.

For questions about the Harvard group’s activities in Nepal, please contact Bhojraj Pokharel,

Read more stories from the Harvard For Nepal Blog.