Nepal summit discusses efforts

by Rachel Favors | 2/17/16 7:12pm

From Feb. 18 to Feb. 20, Dartmouth will host the 2016 Leila and Melville Straus 1960 Family Symposium focused on the rebuilding efforts and response to the April 2015 and May 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake and the 7.3-magnitude earthquakes both devastated Nepal, creating a humanitarian crisis where over 8,000 people were killed and over two million people were displaced.

The three-day summit will feature a photographic exhibition, panel discussions, film screenings, a keynote address by Swarnim Waglé, former member of Nepal’s National Planning Commission and a townhall discussion with Waglé and Mahendra Shrestha, chief of policy for the Nepali Health Ministry’s Planning and International Cooperation Division.

The event, hosted by the Dickey Center for International Understanding, will include experts in technology, medicine, anthropology and arts in addition to members of the Nepali government.

Since the Straus Symposium is an annual event centered on the analysis of current global issues, main organizer of the event and Dickey Center program manager of human development initiatives Kenneth Bauer said that he wanted to take advantage of its focus to host this summit.

Dartmouth also has a “strong history of response to natural disaster in the recent past,” anthropology professor Sienna Craig said.

Bauer said that the College has been involved in humanitarian efforts following the 2010 Haiti earthquake and in Kosovo following the civil war. He noted a theme of Dartmouth involvement in post-conflict resolution, global health, human development and rebuilding efforts.

The idea of the summit comes from recognizing our “common humanity,“ Bauer said. Following the earthquake, there was a strong response on campus among Nepali students who raised money and awareness of the issue, which other members of the Dartmouth community tried to “foster and nurture,” he said.

This student aid initiative from Nepali students and other members of the Dartmouth community eventually coalesced into Dartmouth for Nepal, Craig said.

Dartmouth for Nepal is raising $10,000 for relief efforts and, according to its website, has built 34 shelters, conducted six health camps for more than 500 people and delivered supplies to 150 families across two villages.

Dartmouth for Nepal member and Dickey Center human development fellow Kripa Dongol ’16 said that she personally conducted relief work in Nepal immediately following the earthquakes — including helicopter emergency evacuations, construction of temporary shelters and working at health camps. She said she also recently went back to Nepal to do research for her thesis geography on the vulnerability of mountain communities in situations like earthquakes.

Other campus earthquake relief efforts include Aasha for Nepal, which is a non-profit organization co-founded by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center doctor Daniel Albert and Shreya Shrestha Med’16.

Shrestha, who was born and raised in Nepal, said that she saw rampant suffering throughout the country while growing up, which motivated her to help in whatever capacity she could.

“The goal of Aasha for Nepal is to curtail preventable suffering in Nepal that has been bred by a lack of access to quality healthcare for Nepal’s medically underserviced and vulnerable populations,” Shrestha said.

Inspired by these grassroots efforts and ongoing discussions, Craig said, Bauer thought that Dartmouth could be a place to bring together stakeholders with different perspectives on the meanings of the earthquakes and their political, economic and social implications.

Bauer said that he wanted to make the summit a multidisciplinary event. The weekend’s events take a “big tent approach to a big problem,” joining people from across disciplines to think of ways to keep the attention of the world on Nepal so that rebuilding can really occur.

Craig said that the summit is especially relevant now because Nepal just officially created a plan for reconstruction after a number of months, delayed in part by political tensions between India and Nepal.

“We are finding ourselves hosting this event at a point of human and political policy transitions in Nepal,” Craig emphasized.

Dongol said that because the earthquakes were so recent, there has been little academic scholarly work on them. This summit will be a “springboard” for intellectual and policy discussions on this issue, she said.

Craig and her colleagues, who are on the “Narrating Disaster: Causality and Responses to the 2015 Earthquakes in Nepal” panel, will be presenting their preliminary research findings at the summit, Craig said.

The project, called “Narrating Disaster,” is a collaboration between anthropologists and linguists who are working with community researchers in Nepal to record and interpret the stories of people who have lived through these events, she said.

“Social Media and Social Entrepreneurship in Response to the Earthquakes” panelist Max von Hippel ’19 said that he will be discussing the common mistakes that people make in attempting to create social media platforms to help the people “on the ground” respond to crises.

Von Hippel created an application, Chetawani, which currently has over 8,000 downloads, to provide access to the community-driven Open Street Map emergency response map of affected areas in Nepal as well as links to a small variety of emergency resources provided by third party organizations, he said.

Von Hippel said that his app was successful because it turned the ideas and needs of the people in Nepal into reality. He said that he is excited for the opportunity to learn more about the challenges in Nepal from these experts coming to the summit, so he can continue to help build tools and technological solutions to these problems.

“Public Health Responses to the Earthquakes” panelist Shrestha said that the summit will bring awareness, publicity and visibility to the issues still going on in Nepal. Although it has almost been a year since the earthquakes, people are still suffering and the need for aid and relief is still present, she added.

During the panel, Shrestha said she will give people an overview of what Aasha for Nepal has done in terms of how much they have spent, where donors’ funds have gone and where they are headed as an organization.

Shrestha said that the summit as whole is a great forum for the exchange of ideas on the response to the earthquakes “in a more coordinated and impactful manner.” She is excited to meet leaders in earthquake relief efforts, noting that her organization potentially can “leverage [these connections] going forward to reach places that we have not been able to reach yet in Nepal.”

Bauer said that the summit will also bring many Nepali people from across the country to the College.

“If I can’t go to Nepal, at least I get to bring a lot of Nepal to campus,” Bauer added.

In addition to the Dickey Center, which oversees the Straus 1960 Family Symposium, the anthropology department, Asian and Middle Eastern studies program, linguistics program, the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty are contributing to the summit.