The numbers that came out of Nepal in the aftermath of the April earthquake paint a picture of almost complete ruin. According to government reports, 8,789 people are dead and 22,309 have been injured. Nepal’s infrastructure has been devastated. Almost 800,000 homes have been completely or partially destroyed. Close to 1,000 health facilities and over 30,000 classrooms have been fully or partially damaged. The cost of rebuilding these buildings, along with destroyed bridges and roads, is estimated to be about USD 5 billion, with a further USD 5 billion needed to fully offset the disaster’s damage. Taken together, this USD 10 billion in total economic damages represents more than half of Nepal’s GDP.
International philanthropies are playing a central role in helping Nepal cope with this fallout. The Nepal Red Cross has been on the frontlines of disaster relief efforts, providing medical care to those afflicted by the earthquake and mobilizing over 300 Nepali staff and 1,500 Nepali volunteers. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has supplemented these efforts by bringing in personnel and supplies from Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world. Doctors without Borders has sent eight teams of staff accompanying 3,000 kits of non-food and medical supplies. A range of other international philanthropies, including CARE, Mercy Corps, and Catholic Relief Services, have also been providing integral food and living supplies, as well as personnel on the ground.
One of the more innovative—and invaluable—contributions of the philanthropic sector has been “crisis mapping.” Through a global mapping platform called OpenStreetMap, volunteers across the globe have helped create maps of disaster-stricken areas, detailing obstacles such as broken bridges and blocked roads. For Nepal, volunteers have used satellite imagery and drones to map everything from impassable roads to structurally sound buildings to patches of land that could be used as helipads or drop zones. These maps have allowed NGOs and IGOs, as well as the Nepali Army, to quickly determine routes to remote villages in need of aid.
Destroyed infrastructure hasn’t been the only obstacle facing aid workers, however. The Nepali government’s Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund was established as a way to coordinate aid efforts and catch fake aid organizations. But the rollout of this fund has created confusion as to which NGOs have to route their aid through the government. Aid was also delayed by the Department of Customs’ insistence that it inspect every single aid package flown into to the country. However, the Nepali government has since taken action to correct these initial stumbles, creating a more flexible environment for private relief aid.
Still, Nepal needs to do more to improve its environment for private philanthropy. This week, the Center for Global Prosperity released its first ever Index of Philanthropic Freedom, which uses surveys from country experts to measure how easy it is to carry out philanthropic efforts in 64 countries. Nepal has the third lowest ranking of the entire index, ahead of only Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Nepali government puts strict registration requirements on all civil service organizations. The government also restricts on the flow of philanthropic funds, both into and out of the country. Last, civil service organizations must deal with a sporadically enforced tax system in order to take advantage of any tax exemptions offered for philanthropic activity.
Already underdeveloped and reliant on foreign aid, Nepal will need the support of international philanthropies more than ever as it attempts to overcome staggering economic and human losses. But in order to maintain this support, the government must open up its giving environment and provide philanthropies with the space and stability they need to help rebuild Nepal.