Nepal: Three Years Later

Nepal: Three Years Later

Charity Intelligence reports:



To best help Nepal's recovery from twin severe earthquakes in April and May 2015, Charity Intelligence recommended Canadians donate to Doctors Without BordersWorld Vision and UNHCR. Three years on we assess how each charity has used donations to help Nepal's relief and recovery. Donors need to critically assess how our giving was used. Did it do the most good possible?

Accountability works both ways; Charity Intelligence needs to be accountable too. Did we pick the right charities?

UNHCR was a bad pick. Doctors Without Borders was "better than good" but not "best" as Nepal's medical needs were less than those in prior earthquake responses, thankfully. World Vision was a "best" pick. Samaritan's Purse was likely a "better than good" pick we missed.

Few donors evaluate disaster giving. Without donors reading progress reports, perhaps charities see little point in reporting back. As such, disaster reporting is generally poor. There is little information on how much money was raised, how this money was spent, when it was spent, and how it met the needs of Nepal.

This needs to change. Donors need to read the progress reports. As more Canadians follow-up, charity reporting will improve, and there will be better accountability. Aid will be faster and better, ultimately helping more those affected by disasters.


Nepal's Greatest Needs: Shelter, Cash, and Farm Supplies

Charity Intelligence's recommendations assumed permanent shelter would emerge as the greatest need in Nepal. It is following most earthquakes. This held true for Nepal. GroundTruth's independent surveys of Nepalese affected by the earthquake showed permanent shelter was their first priority. Second was cash transfers and cash-for-work. The third highest need was initially building supplies. By October 2015, this shifted to farm supplies, like animal livestock and seeds.

From this survey information, Charity Intelligence rates highest the charities with the largest spending in shelter, cash, and livelihood aid. This aid provided what the people of Nepal said was needed most. Therefore, we think it is the most effective. We assume people affected by disasters know best what they need.

World Vision has the highest spending mix in Nepal's three priority areas; 62% of its spending was in shelter, cash, and livelihoods. For comparison, Plan International spent 40% on the three highest needs.


Assessing Disaster Responses

Charity Intelligence has evaluated the information charities have posted on their disaster response work in Nepal and rated them "best" to "worst". 

Making comparisons between charities is controversial. Should one judge charities and evaluate their work? Charity Intelligence believes comparisons are essential to give intelligently. Agree or disagree, donors need some objective framework to assess their giving decisions. Better giving will best help people hit by disasters.


Nepal Earthquake 2015 Response Assessment

Charity Our Assessment Activities
Charities Recommended by Charity Intelligence:
World Vision International Best 62% spent on Nepal's highest needs, 307 homes built (of total 357 homes planned). Best mix, fast timing.
Doctors Without Borders Better All medical. Fast response - all finished by Dec 2015.
UNHCR  Worst* Poor - temporary shelter, plastic tarps. *Based on UNHCR's public reports.
Charities providing Nepal's needs for permanent housing:
Samaritan's Purse Better Looks good - fast disaster response, adaptive, long-term shelter 350 homes built (total 400 planned).
World Renew Good Looks good - long-term shelter 81 homes built (total 201 planned), estimated total cost per home US$17,000.
Habitat for Humanity International Poor Looks poor quality - 87 homes built, (total 150 planned), estimated total cost per home US$22,700
Disaster response charities:
Canadian Red Cross Good Medical care, mentions cash distributions. No additional information after Phase 1. 
Plan International Good 40% spent on Nepal's highest needs.
Oxfam International Good Cash distributions maybe $12m 21% of aid, temporary shelter, water
Save the Children Poor Cash, medical care


Charity Intelligence has assessed 10 charities' disaster responses to Nepal's 2015 earthquake. For each charity we report the key highlights of its work and provide links to its donor progress reports for you to read. Reading through these reports, keep foremost Nepal's priority needs. 

Canadian Red Cross 

Doctors Without Borders

Habitat for Humanity

Oxfam International

Plan International

Samaritan's Purse

Save the Children


World Renew

World Vision


Cash: effective, fast and cheap

World Vision has made a large commitment to cash transfers in delivering humanitarian aid. It has raised cash transfers from 5% of aid programs to 30%. Cash transfers are a significant recent innovation in disaster aid. Cash gives people hit by disaster greater dignity and choice. Rather than receiving "stuff" charities think people need, cash gives people the flexibility to choose. Also, it helps local markets recover. Donors should also like cash; it is effective, fast, and cheap.


Nepal needs houses, not plastic tarps

The Gorkha earthquake flattened an estimated 800,000 homes leaving 2.7 million people homeless. Plastic tarps are provided in the immediate disaster phase for temporary shelter. Tarps are not a shelter substitute for houses. Disaster after disaster, tents and tarps are proven to be ineffective in countries that have monsoons or cold weather. Nepal has both.

Samaritan's Purse's director noted in June 2015:

"it soon became evident that households needed a more substantial temporary shelter than tarps to sustain them through the monsoon period."

Charity Intelligence assessed two charities with a focus on long-term shelter: World Renew and Habitat for Humanity. We included Samaritan's Purse when we learnt how many houses it was building.

Charity progress reports frequently talk about construction training programs, teaching people how to build homes. Yet Nepal has an abundance of construction workers. However, these skilled workers leave Nepal for higher-paying jobs in India and the Gulf States. These workers send money home - 30% of Nepal's economy is funded by foreign remittances. In the disaster-affected areas, 17% of families report a migrant member - a man, most likely - working abroad to earn money for the family. This severe workforce shortage is one factor in Nepal's sluggish recovery.

Recognizing this reality, World Renew paid local construction workers higher wages so they would stay in Nepal to help communities rebuild. This program adaption may explain why, with similar levels of donations, World Renew will build 201 homes relative to Habitat for Humanity's 150 homes. 


Comparing Results: Homes built in Nepal

Without financial information found for Samaritan's Purse, World Renew, or Habitat for Humanity, donors have only pictures of homes built to compare results. From the pictures, Samaritan's Purse and World Renew look better.


Nepal’s local charity, Dhurmus Suntali Foundation, sets the bar for excellence  

Pessimists may see disaster response as hopeless, particularly in countries as politically-dysfunctional and corrupt as Nepal. The ten charities reviewed plan to build 1,100 permanent homes, which is perhaps inconsequential relative to the estimated 800,000 homes destroyed by Nepal’s earthquake.  

Where government's are unable to respond, this is exactly the gap charities can fill.  Nepal’s Dhurmus Suntali Foundation is a shining example.  In rural areas destroyed by the earthquake, Dhurmus Suntali Foundation has re-built three entire villages and 110 houses. Each house is earthquake-resistant, has two storeys, four rooms, a toilet, water supply, drainage, grain storage, solar panels for light, and rooftops for television antenna. A village is not just houses. In each village, Dhurmus Suntali Foundation has also built temples, children’s parks, gardens, a community centre, public toilets, and parking lots. The total cost for each house is an estimated US$7,840.

“If we were waiting for the government, we would still be in plastic tents. We are lucky to get the support of the Dhurmus Suntali Foundation.”

Ram Bahadur Tamang, community leader of Giranchaur, a village rebuilt by Dhurmus Suntali Foundation.


One last note, because facts matter

Wikipedia’s page on the Nepal Earthquake incorrectly states Canada contributed $4.16 million “with $832,000 to Canadian Red Cross”. The Canadian government alone provided $90.7 million for Nepal’s earthquake disaster response (see Table: Global Affairs Canada grants). On top of the $4.5 million Canadian Red Cross received from Global Affairs Canada, it received an additional $22.9 million in donations.

There is no final tally but Canadians (individuals, companies, and governments) gave over $113 million to Nepal’s disaster response.


Next time

Donors need to evaluate their giving and examine how their giving could be better. It is human nature to seek to improve. We strive to do better. We learn so that we can give better next time.

Generosity alone is not enough. One must always ask if giving did the most good possible. To answer this question, comparisons are needed. For example, GAC’s $64 million donation to UNHCR could have built 6,400 Dhurmas Suntali Foundation homes. This would have housed 29,000 people who may still be living in plastic tents three years after the earthquake.

 “We don’t need to give more money for disaster aid to be more effective, we just need to give better.”


All sources and references are provided in the full report with links: Charity Intelligence, Nepal Earthquake - 3 Years Later, a review and assessment for Canadian donors of 10 charities; work in Nepal's disaster response, April 2018



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