Tragedies, especially those of monumental proportions, like the one in Nepal, tend to bring out the best and most generous in people. We have seen this all over the world in crisis situations. In fact, the provision of aid is an industry in itself. Yet, the act of giving has also come in for a lot of flak.
In the Nepal crisis, there are lakhs of people, both in India and abroad, who want to do their bit for those who have lost so much. But this often takes on the form of items that are unnecessary for the situation at hand. In the devastating tsunami, we saw relief aid of clothes and shoes being rushed to affected areas when the need was really for medicines and food. In many parts of Africa, perennially affected by disasters and civil wars, aid often comes in the form of useless items like western clothing and electrical equipment to areas where there is no electricity.
People tend to offload goods, which they feel may help those in distress and the storage of the quantity of such things often creates more problems for the hapless victims. The giving of aid items ought to be as carefully monitored as rescue operations. In Nepal now, with the rains and the cold, the primary need is shelter.
With the death toll mounting and the number of injured increasing by the day, what is vital is medicines and medical equipment. Part of disaster management ought to be to come up with a realistic assessment of the needs of the affected and send aid accordingly. There is a tendency to treat people in distress as those who will accept anything. It would also help if, apart from donations in cash and kind, the private sector companies could pitch in more with their expertise to get systems up and running. This could include construction, telecommunication and medical services.
The government and the army have done a magnificent job so far, but they are really stretched. Nepal needed expertise in many areas at the best of times. Perhaps, what would be useful now is for experts to help in areas like counselling, which the victims who have witnessed such a horrific tragedy will surely need. This is particularly true for children who need reassurance and support at a time like this.
The message that the authorities need to emphasise to people is to give as much as you can, but give wisely keeping in mind the needs of the affected.