When over a quarter million people died in the Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004 and the whole world rushed to the aid of the victims, the European Commission’s then commissioner for aid Louis Michel warned that assistance should not become some kind of “beauty pageant” – countries should not try to outdo each other by giving money but think about the longer term goals.
The same warning should be kept in mind in the case of Nepal. The earthquake has claimed 4,000 lives so far and the final consequences are not clear yet, the country’s Prime Minister Sushil Korala mentioning a possible death toll of 10,000. By the UN’s initial estimates, the disaster has affected the lives of 8 million. Over 1.4 million people – more than the population of Estonia – need food aid. UNICEF says that 1 million children are affected by the aftermath of the earthquake. Nepal’s population is about 27 million, so the disaster has or will impact a noteworthy share of the people.
As of late April, the European Union had announced aid of 3 million euros. Added to this figure are member states’ own donations. It’s clear that 3 million euros is not enough, but the EU has said it is just the preliminary aid. The EU uses a civil protection mechanism to provide aid, marshalling the resources of all the member states and thus responding in more coordinated fashion to urgent needs.
The European Union currently has other concerns – the Mediterranean migrant crisis and support for Ukraine against Russian aggression. Still, relief for Nepal will not require major political decisions, the assistance was essentially automatic. The problem lies in what kind of aid to give and how to ensure that the aid reaches the victims.
A “beauty pageant” in relief efforts would mean a PR campaign. The European Union and other international organizations or countries must not turn Nepal relief into a communication stunt. At the same time, the public still has to be kept informed about what kind of aid is being given and how ordinary citizens can help those in need.
An article in the British paper The Guardian reminded the donors that assistance is not about who gives it. And assistance doesn’t necessarily mean racing to the scene of the disaster – it’s wise to talk to the relief agencies first as they know better what is needed and where. Donating items is no good either, as it is hard to distribute them in a crisis zone. The simplest course of action is to give money to the relief organizations.
The article also recalled perhaps the most important fact – the assistance should be given for a longer period. In other words, it should answer the question of how reconstruction can start in the crisis zone. This is also a problem pertaining to Nepal’s future. It is clear that the victims need assistance fast, but changing the situation in a more lasting way requires planning and greater resources. Thus it can be presumed that the 3 million euros from the European Union will not be the last.
Delivering the aid has become a problem in Nepal. The capital Kathmandu’s airport is the only international airport and it, too, was damaged by the earthquake. A Finnish rescue team did not get permission from authorities to land in Kathmandu on Tuesday, which meant that Estonian rescuers sharing the same flight could not be deployed. Yet Estonia will undoubtedly have a chance to contribute through the European Union, World Health Organization or the UN. First we need to think about the victims, then ourselves.
This piece, originally in Estonian, aired on Retro FM’s European news on 29 April.