3Qs: The aid response to Nepal

ergunThe devastating earthquake in Nepal last week has reportedly left more than 7,000 people dead and tens of thousands more injured. 10 days after the disaster, rescuers are still searching for survivors among the rubble, and the force of the earthquake was so strong that it caused a deadly avalanche on nearby Mount Everest.

Here, Ozlem Ergun, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and an expert in large-scale networks, discusses the aid response to the region and the challenges humanitarian groups might face.

On campus, Northeastern student organization UTSAV is raising money for the relief effort. The organization held a Henna 4 Hope fundraiser in the Curry Student Center and is encouraging donations through Oxfam.

What will be the primary focus of rescue and humanitarian groups in the coming days in Nepal? 

Search and rescue, water, food, and shelter are on the top of first response lists for these types of emergencies. However, given that this was a high-injury disaster, one of the main focal points will also be bringing in equipment and healthcare workers to treat the injured. In the first few weeks after the Haitian earthquake there were operating tables under tarps where healthcare workers were trying to save lives and limbs.

What will be the most significant problems rescue efforts encounter in Nepal?

It is a hard place to get to. The very harsh geography will make the inflow of materials and people challenging. Also, given that Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, it has very little infrastructure to begin with. I will guess that one of the hardest things to do will be taking care of the injured given the nature of the disaster.

What role do new technologies and social media play in administering aid in the 21st century? What new technologies are being most utilized?

One of the challenges after a large-scale disaster is matching what is being sent in with what is actually needed. Unfortunately, not only will outsiders send in unnecessary items and clog the already damaged logistics infrastructure, but in the past aid agencies have also brought in too many of certain items while not bringing in enough of others due to a lack of coordination. However, given the advances in technology, the coordination of large-scale agencies is much better now. Using social media and setting up matching sites where demand and supply of items can be matched will make aid delivery much more efficient.