I reached Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu state a few days after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami had killed nearly 300,000 people in south and southeast Asia, including more than 10,000 in India. The disaster had shocked the world, and people were anxious to help.
Amid the terror and desolation of people still hoping for the miraculous escape of their missing loved ones, I found bewildering piles of rejected clothes. It dawned on me that charity is, after all, about what people can spare. And urban Indians had spared clothes they no longer wanted – forgetting that in rural India, there is little use for dresses or skinny pants. I even found a brand new set of silk pajamas.Relief workers in India then began to be more specific. People needed saris, blouses, petticoats, lungis, children’s clothing, sanitary pads, cooking vessels, dry rations, school books, bed linen, or unexpiredmedicines.
Thousands have perished in the devastating earthquake in Nepal on April 25. As the world rightly reaches out to help the millions who are suffering, it is important that any help offered is based on a proper, needs-based assessment, and reaches the most vulnerable.
After the tsunami, Human Rights Watch found discrimination in the provision of assistance, including against Dalits and members of tribal groups. These communities will be vulnerable in Nepal as well. In addition, Tibetan refugees and LGBT communities can risk being excluded from assistance.
The authorities and aid agencies responding to the disaster in Nepal should also address the particular needs of women and girls, who can be at heightened risk of sexual violence in the wake of disaster, by making efforts to protect their privacy and security with adequate sanitation and health facilities. It is also important that relief efforts protect people with disabilities.
In the longer term, the Nepalese authorities and donors should look at ways to support people without assets such as wage laborers or tenant farmers; consult with communities for successful long-term relocation of displaced people; and ensure proper compensations for people who have either lost title to their property or who lack proper titles, issues that came up during the Tsunami response.
Children are especially vulnerable in disasters because they can become victims of illness, malnutrition, trafficking, forced labor, child marriage, or sexual violence. Children in Nepal will be at special risk if they are unaccompanied or orphaned due to the earthquake. The Nepalese authorities must try their utmost to reunite children with their families or other relatives willing and capable of looking after them. They should uphold international standards requiring that the best interests of the child be paramount, work with international donors to ensure proper access to education, and provide targeted assistance for vulnerable families to reduce the risk of children falling victim to abuse.
The world should step up its help for those affected the Nepal earthquake and ensure its aid protects the rights of the most vulnerable. – Human Rights Watch