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Aid is just a first step for Nepal

By Colm Byrne

Published 06/05/2015

More is needed to help the victims of Nepal earthquake
More is needed to help the victims of Nepal earthquake

Following Nepal's recent earthquake, more than 7,000 people are dead and as yet unknown thousands homeless. Food stocks are low, the seasonal rains are coming and patience is running thin.

The sight of a child's teddy bear hanging from a badly damaged home in Sanhku seems a cruel irony for those now homeless and clinging on to hope of much-needed assistance.

Since I arrived in Nepal last week I have met so many people whose extraordinary dignity is a reminder that those affected by disaster are not helpless victims.

But, before long, the debate turns to how long it takes aid to arrive; and how it requires more transparency.

Nepal is mountainous, lacks critical infrastructure and is very poor. Bad weather, landslides and avalanches have all hampered relief efforts. If food is available, people may not have money to buy it.

Aid workers are literally working around the clock. It's a chaotic environment that requires proper co-ordination of logistics, but that also takes time.

Oxfam has long called for resilience to be part of humanitarian response. We know that communities that are trained in preventing and responding to disasters are better equipped to recover from disaster when it strikes. This requires ongoing and substantial investment and engagement by aid agencies and governments.

Relief and recovery go hand-in-hand, so we leave communities better off than they were before, not simply dress the wound and hope it doesn't re-open.

We need governments, media and donors to understand that recovery takes a long time. Nepal's problems won't be gone in a week, or a month, or even a year - and if resources dry up, then the country may never recover.

Countries that were underdeveloped and socially deprived will not automatically be better following disaster intervention. It takes long-term investment.

When the media interest wanes, we can't let the focus of the international community wane, too, if we are to rebuild Nepal.

Disaster relief is not a solution, but it is an important first step.

Colm Byrne is humanitarian manager with Oxfam Ireland in Nepal (www.oxfamireland.org)

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