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Disaster Prep and First Response

Removing the Bottlenecks to Disaster Response

Photos: Courtesy of Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi/UNDP Nepal

The April 2015 earthquake that devastated Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, left nearly 9,000 dead and a further 5 million people affected. Estimates are that economic losses surpassed $5 billion. Homes, schools, hospitals and critical infrastructure key to the delivery of basic services were terribly damaged.

Given the impact of the earthquake, the government of Nepal declared a state of emergency. Neighboring countries, such as China and India, as well as the broader international community —  especially the UK, Norway and the EU — responded quickly to the disaster, deploying cargo planes replete with medicine, food, personnel, and materials necessary for emergency shelter.

Real-world application

Even though early action was taken, it took time to deliver relief to the people most in need due to many reasons: the geographical remoteness of many badly affected villages; the damages suffered by roads, highways and transportation systems; the congestion of and impact of the earthquake on Kathmandu’s international airport infrastructure; and a shortage of vital equipment.

The Kathmandu civil aviation and transport system was not sufficiently prepared for the earthquake. Despite an efficient disaster risk management institution and the swift intervention of authorities — especially that of the Nepalese military, who were much praised by the population for their rapid reaction — targeted, sector-specific disaster preparedness could have helped reduce the losses.

Good disaster risk reduction practice requires targeting those sectors that facilitate and ease access. Sea port authorities, the department of customs, transportation and highway officials, and of course airport authorities themselves, can be sensitized, prepared and trained to handle the sudden surge of relief goods and personnel. Bottlenecks to the delivery of relief, such as airport capacity, must be identified and addressed with the collaboration of several stakeholders, including the private sector.

Areas of growth

On all of these fronts, progress is being made: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), through a public-private partnership with Deutsche Post DHL Group and the government of Germany, has trained over 700 officials in 38 airports worldwide to handle disaster response. This practical preparedness exercise looks at systems such as customs, storage and cargo movement to determine any areas that could hold up relief. This is good progress, but clearly far from enough.

Acknowledging this, many countries are eager to scale up action. The government of India, for example, is building upon its previous work with UNDP to target more than 40 airports nationally over the coming two years. And the new Global Preparedness Partnership, launched by the V20 group of climate vulnerable countries with the World Bank and U.N., aims to help countries reach a minimum level of readiness so that disaster events can be better managed locally with reduced need for international assistance.

As we mark the second anniversary of both the Nepal Earthquake and the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, let us send out a strong message that targeted preparedness built on a foundation of collaboration and partnerships is necessary to scale up and achieve our objectives: saving lives and reducing both economic and development losses.

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