News and analysis
April 30, 2015

Nonprofits Report Faster and Bigger Response to Nepal Than to Other Recent Disasters

Caritas Australia

Caritas Nepal distributed supplies, including tarps for shelter, at the Dhobighat area of Kathmandu. Between 500 and 600 people are staying near the distribution site.

Donors in the United States and elsewhere are sending millions of dollars to earthquake-shattered Nepal, even as organizations on the ground report difficulty delivering relief to some areas.

On Thursday, five days after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the mountainous country, Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Center updated the death toll to 5,582. It reported 11,175 people injured. More than 200,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed. As many as 1.4 million people in Nepal may need food assistance.

A donate button added to Facebook news feeds has raised $10 million for International Medical Corps, spokesperson Lisa Ellis said Thursday. It was one example of technology companies seizing a starring role in fundraising efforts.

“Facebook will match every dollar donated up to $2 million,” founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a message on his Facebook wall posted on Monday. “Matching funds will be distributed to local relief and rescue organizations working to provide immediate and ongoing relief.”

Some U.S.-based nonprofits told The Chronicle that giving for the relief effort is at or ahead of that for other recent natural disasters.

As of Wednesday, the American Red Cross had received $8.8 million in donations and pledges.

By that evening, Mercy Corps had raised $2.9 million from 13,239 donors, said Christine Bragale, director of media relations. The figure is 260 percent of what the organization raised in the first four days after the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and 60 percent what it raised in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

"The overall pool of donors responding to this emergency is smaller than the pool that responded to Haiti, but they’re giving larger gifts," Ms. Bragale said.

Mercy Corps has more than 100 staff members on the ground in Nepal, where they are distributing tarps, household supplies, and other essentials.

The U.S. Fund for Unicef has collected $3.7 million for its Nepal relief efforts, according to spokesperson Susannah Masur. Four days after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Unicef had raised more than $4.9 million.

And Fidelity Charitable said Thursday morning its donors have made grants totaling $2.7 million for relief efforts in Nepal. Last year, it made grants totaling $5.5 million during the Ebola outbreak.

Treacherous Conditions

Rain and wind that hit parts of the country starting Wednesday hampered aid efforts and added to the misery of the tens of thousands of newly homeless people, aid workers reported. In addition, the capital city of Kathmandu has one airport with a single runway and limited parking for airplanes. That and other meager infrastructure issues are creating a bottleneck of supplies.

"With only one airport serving the area, and it being a very small airport, we’re already seeing a backlog," Elizabeth Tromans, a member of a humanitarian response team from Catholic Relief Services, wrote in a blog post on the organization’s website. "For example, our first relief supplies were supposed to land this morning and were diverted, so we are hoping they come tomorrow."

The Nepalese government reported that in the worst-affected areas, up to 90 percent of health facilities were at least partially damaged. One of the largest private hospitals in Kathmandu is inoperable.

The U.S. government promised $10 million in USAID emergency assistance and sent a 130-member disaster response team to Kathmandu. On its website, USAID directed donors to more than three dozen vetted aid organizations. The U.S. government also said it would funnel $15 million into a U.N.-managed emergency-response fund.

Quick Response

"Our donors reacted swiftly to the news of the Nepal earthquake," Amy Danforth, president of Fidelity Charitable said in an email. "The first grant designated to the relief efforts was made on Saturday morning, and the momentum has been building since."

Catholic Relief Services has collected $2.2 million in donations from individuals and private groups, said spokeswoman Susan Walters. The organization has about 20 staff members in or en route to the country.

In the first four days after Typhoon Haiyan, Catholic Relief Services collected $3.1 million, Ms. Walters said. That disaster triggered an especially strong response in the U.S. because it is home to many Filipinos and because it is recognized by Catholic donors as one of the most devout Catholic countries in the world, she said.

Donors have given $1 million to 315 Nepal-specific campaigns on Indiegogo Life, said Bre DiGiammarino, co-head of the crowdfunding website. The 13,413 individual donations — which averaged between $60 and $75 — came from people in 98 countries. The largest campaign is for the American Nepal Medical Foundation, which has raised $300,000.

By Wednesday, the American Jewish World Service had collected $730,000 in contributions. The number could top $1 million, said Andrew Martin, director of media relations for the group. 

The funds for Nepal will go to five organizations on the ground, four local and one international. The Jewish group’s direct of disaster response will travel to the country this week, Mr. Martin said.

Matt Grager, director of the disaster preparedness program at San Francisco-based Give2Asia, said the nonprofit has raised more than $300,000 from corporate, foundation, and individual donors. The rate of giving is comparable to that during Typhoon Haiyan, he said.

“Every disaster is different, so it can be difficult to compare across countries and contexts,” Mr. Grager said. “But right now we are surprised by the level of interest given the fact that Nepal is small, remote, and lacks significant foreign business interests that can inspire major gifts from corporations.”

Send an e-mail to Megan O’Neil.