With more than 5,000 people dead and more than 10,000 injured (as of April 29) following a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit the Himalayan region, the need for help is overwhelming in the country of Nepal.
Large and small aid agencies are already on the ground aiding the Nepalese in this hour of need and more are coming. Cindy Stein, director of Global Programs for Real Medicine Foundation (RMF), will get a chance to see this necessity firsthand on Friday, May 1, when she travels to Kathmandu.
“Right now we’re organizing the logistics on the ground transportation, and with the money transfer to India and Nepal,” said Stein, who’s been part of previous relief efforts in several countries following disasters of all kinds. RMF has programs in 18 countries spread across the globe, 14 of them still active.
In Nepal, eight million people are estimated to have been affected by the tremor that struck on April 25, and more than one million people are in urgent need of help. More than 450,000 people have been displaced from their homes, according to reports.
Real Medicine Foundation was started by San Fernando Valley resident Martina Fuchs in 2005 based on a disaster relief initiative to give immediate relief to the victims of the December 2004 Tsunami in the south of Sri Lanka. Fuchs, who lived in Studio City, was a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital at Los Angeles. But she decided she could do more. She organized a team of doctor to travel abroad and respond to disasters.
Unlike the Red Cross and other large aid organizations, RMF focuses not only on immediate needs, but also providing medical/physical, emotional, economic and social support, often on the mid- or long-term basis. They are still helping in Haiti after the earthquake that hit the island in 2010.
Another aspect is the RMF’s relief force are the people hired from the local communities who lost their jobs in the disaster.
Stein said the organization has an advantage over other agencies in Nepal, given that they already have in place a very large team that works in more than 600 villages in neighboring India.
This, she said, will allow them to deliver services much faster and reach places that other aid groups may not.
Not that it will be easy.
While the needs of this disaster are very similar to others — tents for the displaced, medical attention to the injured, prevention of communicable diseases, delivery of food and water — the very terrain in Nepal poses some daunting challenges.
“The unique terrain of Nepal is quite a challenge,” noted Stein. “You have villages and towns at very high altitudes, with roads that were not all that good to start with, now with avalanches. You have villages that have not been reached yet, where 80 to 90 percent of the structures have been demolished.”
For the first two weeks after their arrival, Stein said, the first order of business is search-and-rescue and providing medical attention that may include amputations and setting broken bones.
Following that comes helping the most vulnerable: women and children who often fall victim to diseases that arise out of such disasters, primarily diarrhea and other illnesses borne out of unsanitary conditions, which can also be deadly.
The most pressing need currently is for medication, equipment and trauma services, Stein said, as well as tents to house those displaced by the disaster.
“People often make the mistake of thinking they can help with goods, but we encourage people to give money because we can procure goods locally from China and India much faster and we can stretch the money longer,” she said.
“Ten dollars is enough money to buy a tent or a tarp to provide shelter for a whole family.”
Buying locally also helps the local economy recover, Stein said. And money also provides help where it’s most needed, which can change from day-to-day.
“From reports on the ground you can assess what you need. If you get a big case of Gatorade, you may not need it in two months and it will go bad. But you can buy medications, water filtration systems and even hand-sanitizer that can prevent the spread of disease,” Stein said.
That’s why she pleads to those who want to help to go to the RMF website and donate money.
Stein says don’t forget about the Nepalese, a gentle and welcoming people whose very nature can help in the recovery from this major disaster.
“Because of their cultural norm, they are more accepting of different cultures and people, which is a big advantage,” she said.