Nepal Earthquake: How to Help and Lessons from Other Disasters

Most people with access to a news sources probably have heard, Nepal recently experienced a devastating earthquake. Over 5,000 people have died, over 10,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

As a Nepalese expatriate in the United States, unable to go home at the time of the disaster, I wanted to write this post about how we can help from afar. Since there are so many organizations and websites soliciting aid – and   some are doing great work while others might be more deceptive – it is essential to be cautious in your contributions. In other words, please direct your kind generosity to a reliable platform that ensures that your help directly reaches the poorest and most displaced populations of Nepal. It’s easy to find lists of reliable organizations with a little research: here’s one.

While there is always temptation to be eager to help in a timely fashion, it is also important to survey the problems and needs beforehand in order to ensure that your efforts are fruitful. Items like blankets and clothing are difficult to transport and less likely to reach the poorest populations outside of the capital. Dry, non-perishable food items, iodine and chlroine tables for water purification, batteries, torchlights, are all good items to send. According to Dr. Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam, India Tents, food, water, sanitation and medicines are five big requirements at the moment.

Don’t go to Nepal, give to Nepal. The Nepalese government is currently struggling to dispatch a lot of relief workers; their organizational skills are lacking and Nepal is in no way prepared for the aftermaths of such an emergency. Therefore, rather than helpful bodies, donations of money to reputable organizations and donations of essential supplies are the best way to support Nepal.

It is also essential to be aware of short and long term structural ramifications of such a disaster. The following section on lessons from previous disasters is authored by Bhinnata Piya:

  1. Mother Nature discriminates.
    1. Research suggests that while physiological differences between men and women have implications on disaster vulnerability, social norms in certain South Asian countries such as dress code (sari), behavioural restrictions (not leaving home without husband’s permission) and preference for male sons (choosing sons over daughters during rescue efforts because of their ability to carry the family line) place women at a greater disadvantage in the event of natural disasters. Neumayer and Plumper’s analysis of disaster and socioeconomic status of women from 1981 to 2002 effectively highlights this issue by showing that women are more likely to be killed by natural disasters and their long-term impacts compared to men.
    2. 24.8% of the total population in Nepal live below the international poverty line of $1.25/day. According to the country’s 2011 National Population and Housing census, less than 10% of the total number of households lived in houses with pillars made of Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC). This proportion further decreased to 5.5% and 8.9% in Gorkha and Lamjung respectively where over 90% of the buildings have been destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. Not only did the inability to afford quality housing increase low-income families’ vulnerability to the earthquake, but their low literacy rate may also have adversely affected their perception of risks and disaster management leading to a high level of unpreparedness.
  1. Disaster can also perpetuate other forms of inequality.
    1. Dalits, previously known as the “untouchables,” have been systematically discriminated against during disaster relief efforts, further perpetuating caste-based inequalities in many South Asian countries. Although there is very little data on this issue, according to the Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network, many Dalits were not given access to relief camps after the 2010 flooding. Dalits in Sri Lanka faced a similar problem during tsunami relief efforts, where they were excluded in the rationing of food and water.
    2. According to a qualitative analysis of gender-based violence and rape in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Port au Prince after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, most women reported being raped by at least two men within the first five months of the earthquake. These rape survivors, who were already marginalized due to their socio-economic status, were compelled to live under unsafe conditions, exposing them to rapes that occurred mostly at night both inside and outside the IDP camps. In addition to mental trauma, these women had to face the risks of HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and unsafe abortions, placing them in a worse off position than they were before the 2010 earthquake.
  1. There is no silver bullet, but context is key.
    1. So what have we learned from the plight of the earthquake victims from the 1976 Guatemala earthquake to the 2010 Haiti earthquake? We learn that there is no silver bullet, and major disasters will not provide a single solution for an upcoming one unless local governments and community members work together and contextualize the problem. Haiti may teach us about the risks of gender violence in IDP camps, but it tells us very little about Dalits, who may experience discrimination in a very different manner in regions such as India, Pakistan or Nepal. Similarly, the dress code and behavioural restrictions that women face in Bangladesh may not necessarily apply to women in countries such as the United States, where the high mortality rate of women during natural disasters may not necessarily hold true.
    2. Moving forward, it is crucial for governments to thoroughly revise their disaster management protocols in order to fit the needs of the vulnerable populations. For instance, the National Disaster Response Framework developed by the Government of Nepal defines vulnerable groups as “children under 5 and pregnant/lactating women,” and makes no note of other marginalized groups such as Dalits and the LGBT populations. In addition to making a toxic assumption that Nepal has a stable political system, the framework also fails to acknowledge the existing disparities. While it is a task that requires tremendous amount of work and commitment, it could be truly used to reduce inequality through effective disaster management instead of widening the gap between the haves and the have nots.

Bhinnata Piya is a David Satcher Scholar at Vanderbilt University and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree in the Global Health track. She has previously worked in rural Nepal with Possible, a global health non-profit organization. She visited Haiti in a service trip after the 2010 earthquake.

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10 Writing Tips for Student Sociologists



Good writing is crucial to sociology. For sociology to thrive as a discipline we sociologists have to be able to communicate our research effectively to a range of audiences. There are many great writing guides out there (Write for Research is especially good: This list of tips reflects my experience of writing a sociology PhD. It’s by no means an exhaustive or authoritative list and some readers may disagree with some of its items: nevertheless it reflects three years focussing on trying to improve my own writing. As student advice month draws to a close, I think this list therefore may be useful to some student sociologists. (more…)

Surviving the Job Search: It’s not about you

Photo by: Kate Hiscock Found on Flickr Commons

Photo by: Kate Hiscock
Found on Flickr Commons

I am one of the job search survivors – if “survival” means “got a job”.  I did actually get a job.  I got a good job at a university and city where I can build a life.  I am one of the lucky few.  In preparation for this post, I have been racking my brain trying to come up with some things I did well that could be helpful to those on the market this fall.  But the fact is, I’m still nursing my wounds.  I still get rejection emails daily which kindly convey that the department “had a lot of qualified candidates”, “your credentials are exemplary”, and “they have selected another candidate”.  These daily emails serve to remind me how vulnerable I was during the job search and how precarious my future felt for a long long time.


How to Not Lose Your Sense of Self in a Graduate Program



So, you’re interested in pursuing a graduate program? Great! Before you start applying you have to; research which schools have the best department to fit your specialties, you apply to as many schools as you can to ensure at least one acceptance, and then you wait, and wait, and wait. The days turn into weeks, which turn into months, and then, you finally get an acceptance! You jump for joy; you cannot hold in your excitement. You want everyone to know that you got accepted into a graduate program. Upon acceptance, you submit your intent to register. Once you get into your program, you start to second-guess yourself, and your ability as an academic. What do you do to maintain your sense of self? (more…)

Five reasons why grad students should start a blog

The PhD Thesis. The most labour-intensive doorstop imaginable.

It seems rather presumptuous of me to give advice on blogging. I am hardly a power-blogging Pulitzer-prize winning writer and journalist. No-one describes me as a ‘commentator’, my posts don’t go viral, my number of twitter followers is not quite up there with Stephen Fry, by a factor of about er… forty five thousand. But that’s not why I do this, and that’s not why I’ve been blogging for Sociology Lens for well over a year now.  There’s a lot to be said about blogging and how it can both complement and supplement the ‘day-job’ of being a PhD student. (more…)

Coming to Terms With Being a Working Class Academic

Then and now

When I was a kid growing up on council estate in Gloucester, I couldn’t have imagined I would end up doing PhD research in Ecuador. Getting here hasn’t been easy!

I know I have a great deal of privilege. I am a white, thirty-something, well-educated, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied man from Britain. Life is relatively easy for me, and I am well aware of it. But I am also a working class PhD candidate, and academia is one of the few places in which I have ever felt like a minority. People like to think that anyone can make it in the academic world; that it is a meritocracy in which the brightest and best get the support and funding that they deserve, but to be blunt, this is a fantasy.

Academia, despite the efforts of many well-meaning organisations and individuals, is still an elitist institution. We who have entered the industry from a less privileged class position experience both undergraduate and postgraduate study in a very different way to those who arrived here via the predestined path; a path that is open to those who live in a world where it is ‘normal’ to get a PhD, or even to go to university at all. Rather than giving advice, this post identifies some of the underlying causes of the underrepresentation of working class people in postgraduate study. I will try, though, to reflect upon some of the things I have learnt (both about myself and about my chosen ‘career’) while starting out as a working class academic, and I will make a few suggestions that others in a similar position might find useful. (more…)

Technologies of Interviewing: Revamping Qualitative Methods Lessons

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Source: “”


A couple of weeks ago, in my Social Issues in Qualitative Methodology course, I was assigned to give a presentation on the “technologies of interviewing.” At first, I was told by older cohort members that I was lucky because I had the easiest topic: “Just do the history of the recorder.” As I googled the topic, thinking that it would then be some cool history and development I found that my predecessors had just done a timeline of photos of how the recorder has changed over time. How boring! Who would want to sit through a 20 minute lecture, slide after slide, talking about the recorder, especially when we’re supposed to be talking about the social issues involved in qualitative methods?

My advice to you, graduate students, today is to avoid this typical pitfall in your methods classes (as both student and instructor): revamp your lessons so they can be of some actual use! Below I offer an example of how I revamped this “simple and easy topic” to something that students can actually use and learn from.


How I Survived My First Year of Graduate School (and you can too!)

Around this time last year, I had finally received that life-altering email that had prompted numerous hits of the refresh button by the minute: an acceptance into a doctoral program. At first it was all cheers of joys and phone calls to distant family members and facebook statuses with one-off triple-digit number of likes. As April turned into May turned into June; however, and August was clearly in the horizon, a lot of the thrill started to be replaced by a crippling fear.

Much like anyone who had ever been in this place before, I began self-diagnosing an early case of Imposter syndrome. No way I was ready for this! The selection committee had obviously made a mistake! Even now I get that feeling fairly often, however, somehow I am nearing the end of my first year and I survived! I didn’t fail statistics or get escorted off the campus compounds by security, mirroring a particularly mortifying nightmare. I am still here and I plan to be until I have that Ph.D degree, even if there is a tiny voice in the back of my head asking me if I deserve to be. I am doing well. The hard part is the beginning because it comes with the most variances of uncertainties and insecurities. The hardest bit is over and the rest may resemble a roller-coaster ride more than a walk in the park, but I am all buckled up.

Here are some tips that helped me not only survive but cherish my first year of graduate school. I hope it will help those of you worried about starting out this fall. (more…)

Focused Fatigue: Parenting Equally in Graduate School

Photo by: Lori Stamm, used with expressed permission of photographer

Photo by: Lori Stamm, used with expressed permission of photographer

I am a traditional parent and I began my parenting journey while in graduate school.  I am traditional in that boring two-parent household, two incomes, one dog, two children and a whole mess of bills, kind of way.  What makes us interesting however is how we partner in our parenting and household maintenance.  I know, I know – what’s new or progressive about being partners, isn’t that more of the same old style?  Not quite.  I’m serious when I say we are parenting as equals and it mattered A LOT to my work/life balance while earning a PhD.


Difference and Support: To be a (Queer) Scholar of Color




For many (Queer) scholars of color (Queer is in parentheses because not all scholars of color identify somewhere on the Queer spectrum), including myself, attending graduate school is an enormous milestone. In my family, I am the first to attend college, let alone a graduate program. It was weird growing up, and to know that no one in your family could help you with your homework. When I was in 8th grade, I helped my cousin with her 12th grade math homework, so she could graduate high school. Although I knew my family would provide moral support, the support I actually needed would not come from them. I went through my undergraduate career without any role models with whom I could identify. Majority of the professors who provided me with opportunities, believed in me, and/or provided what support they could, were, majority, cisgender white women. I am thankful for all the opportunities and countless references these professors have provided for me. Statistically, I knew the amount of (Queer) scholars of color in graduate programs would be minimal: but, I had no idea about the trifling amount of support, or community, I would find in my graduate program. (more…)