Help Afghanistan Earthquake Victims

Disaster struck Central Asia on Monday. A magnitude-7.5 earthquake rippled throughout northeastern Afghanistan, stretching across the region and impacting India, Pakistan, and Tajikistan as well.

In Taluqan, Afghanistan, 12 schoolgirls died in a stampede following the onset of the earthquake. Nearly 150 deaths were reported in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Officials expect the death toll to rise, reaching into the hundreds. Dramatic images appeared on Twitter depicting destroyed structures. The impact will be especially hard for the region, which already suffers from underdevelopment and poor infrastructure.

A number of first-responder organizations are on the scene and could use your help.

Doctors without Borders announced that they will be providing medical supplies and personnel to cope with the earthquake’s aftermath. UNICEF is highly active in the region. The Afghan Red Crescent Society is also accepting donations in their ongoing efforts to aid those impacted by the disaster.

How NGOs – And You – Can Help Nepal

As the tremors faded, aid officials and victims of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal began taking stock of the destruction and pain left in the disaster’s wake. Nearly 5,000 people are thought to have perished, with over 9,000 injured and up to 8 million directly impacted by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

In the capital city of Kathmandu, many people are sleeping out in the open, avoiding the danger posed by damaged and destroyed buildings. Makeshift tent cities surround the capital. Lingering threats include landslides, one of which claimed the lives of as many as 200 people in the days following the earthquake.

According to a spokesperson from World Vision – an aid group – landslides are one of the most pressing concerns at this juncture: “Villages . . . are routinely affected by landslides, and it’s not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls.” With the geological stress from the earthquake, more of these may occur in the coming days.

Nepal is among the poorest nations on earth, and has inadequate resources and infrastructure to cope with the tall challenges facing it. To make matters worse, the country is also remote and geographically isolated. Some villages are extremely inaccessible, posing difficulty for aid providers, rescue teams, and government agencies.

With the severity of the crisis and Nepal’s preexisting poverty, commentators are making inevitable comparisons to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Writing for the Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen points out a number of considerations that NGOs need to make in order to avoid mistakes and controversies that arose from relief efforts in Haiti. It is essential for NGOs to work closely with Nepalese authorities, he writes, and not “bypass them as they did so often in the case of Haiti.”  Accountability is also an issue, with NGO self-regulation in underdeveloped countries often resulting in poor oversight.

Lastly, Cohen remarks that “[n]o State Farm or Allstate is going to rebuild the homes of people who lost their shelter,” and that the “millions of Nepalese affected by the earthquake need to be helped back beyond where they were.”

Though seemingly cavalier to state now, this disaster may be an opportunity for long-term improvements for the Nepalese people, as well as a chance for NGOs to shore up infrastructure and operations to help in this process.

There are a number of ways you can help. These vetted organizations are accepting donations for relief efforts. 

ActionAid: USA

American Jewish World Service

Americares

Catholic Relief Services

Heart to Heart International

Save the Children

United States Fund for UNICEF

Charities Step Up for Refugee Christians, Yazidis

As various nations, paramilitary groups, and coalitions continue their roles in the intractable war against ISIS, a growing humanitarian crisis is further jeopardizing regional stability and spurring relief nonprofits – both Christian and secular – into action to help persecuted minorities.

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, an estimated 9 million people have been displaced as a result of the conflict (3 million making it to neighboring countries Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and 6 million displaced inside Syria). Few nations outside of the Middle East have extended a helping hand. Chief among those that have is Sweden, which has resettled some 30,000 refugees. Fellow EU member Bulgaria has also established camps for displaced Syrians, but is too cash-strapped to offer optimal services.

Refugees’ existence is precarious, dangerous, and divisive; often, host communities become hostile to innocent civilians fleering destruction at home, as recent riots and anti-refugee violence in Turkey show. Syrians have to cross borders on foot, covering immense distances with few resources. The crisis is also tearing apart families, with women and children comprising 75 percent of inhabitants in Turkish refugee camps. Men are more likely to stay behind to protect property or to take up arms in the conflict.

ISIS’ advance through Iraq and Syria has negatively impacted virtually all ethno-religious groups, as their intolerant and apocalyptic brand of theocratic politics ravages cities and attracts often indiscriminate military responses from the Syrian and Iraqi governments. Certain minorities, however, are singled out and persecuted, including Yazidis and Christians.

Yazidis are a Iraqi minority that practices Yazidism, a syncretic faith descendent from ancient Zoroastrianism and other Mesopotamian religions. ISIS – which views the sect as “devil worshippers” – infamously isolated 40,000 Yazidis on a mountain in August 2014, threatening them with starvation or dehydration if they stayed, and slaughter if they fled. The impasse was broken following military strikes led by the United States.

Christians also face virulent hatred and intolerance under the Islamic pseudo-state. ISIS gives Christians the option to either convert to Islam or be executed as heathens. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes as a result. The country’s largest Christian cities – including Qaraqosh, Tel Askof, Tel Keif, and Qaramless – emptied almost completely before falling to militant jihadists.

The country’s Christian leaders are not mincing words about the onslaught, calling ISIS’ actions genocidal. Patriarch Louis Sako, leader of the Chaldean Catholic church described how 100,000 Christians were forced to flee the Nineveh province:

They fled their villages and houses [with] nothing but … the clothes on their backs …Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Irbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, commented on what he sees as government responsibility for alleviating these conditions: “It is extremely important that aid efforts are supported and that those who have been displaced are able to find safety.”

While governments organize resources and begin formulating partnerships with various relief organizations, a number of nonprofits have already stepped up, rolling out fundraising appeals in the name of persecuted refugees. The Cradle of Christianity Fund (CCF) is using preexisting networks in the region to distribute basic necessities for Christians who fled with nothing. In part aided by the Jordanian government, the CCF focused later 20014 on providing refugees with resources to withstand the cold desert winter.

The Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization is using donations to provide medical care for Christians displaced by the conflict. The International Orthodox Christian Charities is going even a step further, providing educational materials and remedial classes to refugees, as well as shelter and temporary employment.

Secular organizations are making a difference as well. The International Rescue Committee is providing medical and social services in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. Mercy Corps is distributing immediate needs – including food and clean drinking water – to displaced families.

These efforts are a tremendous start, but the severity of the problem warrants a unified, comprehensive approach that marries the UN, governments, and nonprofit groups into an effective and well-organized unit. The scope is massive – so too must the cooperation, trust, fundraising efforts, and generosity be if positive change for persecuted minorities is to happen.

Nonprofits Innovate with Drone Technology

Drones: a technological development whose connotation has evolved from mysterious military weapon to an everyday recreational consumer good with a growing array of practical applications. Improved and cost-effective designs have shrunk the price for basic models to around $500. This has led to a rapid proliferation of the devices – also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

While U.S. businesses (including Amazon, which expressed interest in developing a drone delivery service) have had their drone plans shelved by a federal government uncertain of how to regulate commercial usage, nonprofits and humanitarians around the world have been quick to adapt the remote-flying devices for their work.

PETA uses drones to monitor illegal hunting practices in Upstate New York. The organization has even branded drones with their logo, selling them to activists. A Belgian engineering graduate named Alex Momont designed an “ambulance drone,” which will enable medical professionals to deliver defibrillators to cardiac arrest victims in remote or obstructed areas. Doctors Without Borders enlisted the help Matternet, a Silicon Valley-based drone company, to figure out how to transport tuberculosis samples from remote communities to urban testing centers.

This recent burst of innovation and integration of drone technology appears to be the start of a trend. Staff at the nonprofit Global Medic predict a number of other applications for disaster relief, including search and rescue operations, mapping damaged infrastructure, and tracking population movements. Environmental groups are also exploring the utility of UAVs; a group called ConservationDrones is raising money to develop a fleet to monitor endangered animals, such as the elusive snow leopard.

Right now, nonprofits that possess modest numbers of drones face minimal regulation. The nonprofit Texas Equusearch brought a case against an FAA employee who ordered the organization to cease its drone operations. After review, a panel of judges from the Federal Appeals Court threw out the case stating that there is no legal justification or precedent that prevents the nonprofit from using drones.


That might soon change, however, as the technology faces tougher scrutiny in the wake of high-profile incidents underscoring the danger and potential criminal applications of drone technology.

On Monday, January 26, a UAV crashed on the Whitehouse lawn. A drunk employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency was operating the drone from a nearby apartment building and steered the device over the Whitehouse fence. While this incident did not pose a direct threat to the president or his family, it occurred just days after the Department of Homeland Security held a conference that demonstrated how easily a terrorist could use UAVs to deliver explosives.

A number of other cases have officials mulling over security risks. In France, drones have been seen flying above nuclear reactors. In South Carolina, a drone carrying phones, drugs, and tobacco for inmates crashed at a correctional facility.

Some proposed regulations would mandate safety protocols programmed into drone firmware, which would render drones non-operational or send them back in the direction of their users the moment they entered restricted airspace. The Chinese company DJI – designer and producer of the model used in the Whitehouse incident (pictured above) – announced that it will program such firmware, and that they will develop further programming to prevent drones from flying over national boarders.

This self-regulation, however, will not prevent the inevitable. Specialists agree that these safety configurations are easily hacked, and that with individuals would be capable of circumventing them with minimal know-how. Other controls will be needed to safeguard against misuse.

To what degree drone usage will be regulated remains unclear. One proposal would require users to hold flying licenses, a measure that the Washington Post describes as “overkill.”

Nonprofits should continue integrating technological innovations like drones into their operations. While organizations should also anticipate the conversation around regulation to gain momentum this year, that should not prevent them from demonstrating how technology – when responsibly used – can make profound, positive impacts on the world.

Non-profits Struggle to Fund Fight Against Ebola

This year’s Ebola outbreak has sparked a global response. Governments, aid organizations, and public health groups from across the world are pledging billions of dollars and sending personnel to provide relief in affected areas.

The situation is urgent. The World Health Organization projects that anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 new cases will occur weekly by December. The current outbreak has already claimed more lives than all previous ebola outbreaks put together.

At this rate, the already high cost of containment will only continue to grow. The ebola treatment camp in Bong County, Liberia (built by Save the Children, operated by the International Medical Corps) cost $175,000 to build. It employs a paid staff of 165 and goes through 100 sets of gowns, sheets, and other basic patient supplies a day. Monthly, the operating cost is around $1 million, or $15,000 per bed. According to figures from the WHO, operating 100,000 beds would cost West Africa $1 to $2 billion a month.

Frontline non-profits are struggling with these costs. Natural disaster development professionals are at pains to formulate effective fundraising strategies. While a couple of high-profile donations have secured media attention for the fundraising effort—Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $250 million the the Centers for Disease Conrol, and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation pledged $50 million to UN agencies and various non-profits operating in West Africa—fundraisers face an uphill battle appealing to grass-roots funding.

According to Joel Charny of InterAction, this is because donors respond to cataclysmic events. Highly visible natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines generate not only billions in fundraising, but also volunteers. According to David Wightwick of Save the Children, planes were overflowing with volunteers after Typhhon Haiyan struck the Philippines. But when his organization requested 28 logisticians to work in countries affected by ebola, 21 declined.

Gary Shaye, who also works for Save the Children, commented that “until [ebola] is something much more visible in the media, it’s almost impossible to raise funds.”

Finding a way to tap into the public’s philanthropic spirit is a paramount issue facing frontline non-profits working to contain ebola. Once fundraisers craft a message that connects their potential donors to the plight of ebola sufferers—just as donors felt connected to the victims of other recent natural disasters—disaster relief organizations will be able to move forward in their hugely important work.

This process may now be under way. Mark Zuckerberg has announced a fundraising drive that will be featured on Facebook, where users will be asked to help stop ebola with a donation to the response effort.

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