Nepal Relief Initiative

Project Overview

Friends & Family of W4W,

I'd like to take this opportunity to officially announce that Waves For Water is mobilizing an urgent clean­water disaster relief initiative in response to the earthquake that struck Nepal at 11:56 a.m. local time (2:11 a.m. ET).

I don't usually like to speak in sensationalized terms but feel it's necessary right now, to truly convey the context of what the people of Nepal are dealing with. As we speak, the death toll has already topped 4000 people, but from my experience we should all be prepared for it to end up many times that number. To put it into perspective the capital city, Kathmandu, has a population of about 1 million, with a total of 2.5 million across the entire valley. The initial quake was 7.9 magnitude, followed by a strong aftershock of 6.6 a half­hour afterward, along with at least 15 aftershocks of 4.5 or greater, the USGS reported. The current reports say that around 6 million people have been affected by this between Nepal and its surrounding countries.

This one is REALLY bad. It shares many similarities to the 2010 Haiti Quake: close proximity to densely populated city, lack of solid infrastructure, poorly built buildings, high magnitude, and shallow depth. This combination of factors usually translates into loss and damage of epic proportions.

While we don't respond to every single disaster that happens, it is a large part of what we do, and the severity of this particular event is shaping up to be right inline with our organizational purpose and structure.

Over the past five years we have worked on almost every major global disaster ­ Earthquake/Tsunami's in Indonesia, Haiti, Japan, and Chile. Mega-floods in Pakistan, India, and Brazil... Typhoons in Philippines and (most recently) Vanuatu... and last but not least our comprehensive initiative in response to Super­Storm Sandy here in the U.S. Needless to say, we feel quite equipped at this point to not only respond to these types of events, but do so quickly and efficiently.

Much like many of the other disasters zones we've responded to, Nepal already has a great need for a clean­water program like ours (cholera is and ongoing problem). As much as it's hard to look at these things in a positive light, we do have a couple silver linings in this particular case.

1. The fact that we have already been working in this region for some time and have great local POC's (points of contact) on the ground. It's very rare that we respond to a disaster where we already have solid local networks in place such as these:

⁃ two civilian operated Himalayan alpine guide groups that have extensive knowledge of the region and our program.

⁃ UN Nepalese military battalion we worked closely with in Haiti ­likely to be our main logistics partner throughout this, providing us with air and land support to otherwise inaccessible rural communities.

⁃ US Army Civil Affairs Team stationed in Kathmandu similar to the team we worked with in Bosnia.

2. Immediate seed funding to help us launch this initiative, made available to us by a badass group in the cycling world.

⁃ The MFG Cyclocross event happened last Dec in Seattle to help raise money for an upcoming clean­water project we had planned (coincidentally) in Nepal this June. They have now generously approved us using it towards this disaster initiative.

Two of the most essential pieces of any disaster relief equation are a good local network and of course, funds... so for us to be ahead of the curve like this, in both areas, will be key in making our efforts quick and efficient.

Our initial goal with any project like this is to help mitigate the immediate suffering by providing victims with access to safe water. Once we have boots on the ground, and the framework of our program there is built, we will start to develop/implement long term programs that can be managed and built upon, locally. It is really no different than the work we have done (and continue to do) in locations like Haiti, Philippines, Mexico.

  • The first phase is urgent in nature and made up of multiple strategic strikes into the hardest hit areas of the disaster zone.
  • These strikes entail us providing access to clean water by distributing portable water filtration systems to community centers, refugee camps, and individual families in these areas.
  • The second phase, though still providing relief, consists of expanding the program by implementing more long term solutions ­ such as rain-water harvesting systems on schools and medical clinics, restoring dead wells/pumps, and actively seeking out new regions of need beyond ground zero.

  • My team and I will be on the ground by Thursday of next week with at least 400 clean-­water filtration systems; which can provide up to 40,000 quake victims with access to clean water, almost immediately.

    Our goal to get as many of these clean­water filtration systems to ground zero as possible. This will all depend on the support that follows our initial launch this coming week. We have used these exact bucket systems in almost ever corner of the world and the measurable impact they have is unparalleled.

    The main challenge with the global water crisis is not a question of technology, but rather a question of access... and ultimately, that is exactly what our program is designed to do ­ provide access.

    As I said, this is a place that needs these types of programs anyway... so, in light of this devastating quake, I am challenging all of us to look at this event as a way to not only address the immediate needs, but to also bring focus to an issue that is long overdue... and lastly, to just simply do the right thing.

    Any of your help and encouragement on is greatly appreciated...

    Thanks and stay tuned for more updates from the field.


    Here is a link to our Nepal Support Document

    Jul 01 - 2015Field Update // 4

    "It started 10 days ago, with a text from Jon.

    "Hey bud! Random question," he wrote. "Can you by chance go to Nepal this week?"

    A cargo shipment had stalled in Dubai and he needed 400 filters delivered to 'quake-shaken Nepal ASAP. Could I be the mule? Of course I could. The timing was right.

    I landed in Kathmandu 72 hours later with instructions to deliver the filters to Waves For Water country director Paul Rai and tag along for a week. "Soak it all in," Jon said. "Listen, observe, etc." I'd be an intern, I thought, and that was just fine. I disembarked the plane into Kathmandu's sticky night air, and as I crossed the tarmac my gaze lifted to the illuminated airport sign, "Tribhuvan International Airport." Except the "ational" was blacked out. So it just read, "Tribhuvan Intern Airport."



    Paul Rai was outside customs to welcome me, whisk me away to the hotel and have dinner and a beer waiting for me. Hospitality game — strong. The next day we'd start at Waves For Water's headquarters AKA Binod Rai's compound. Paul and Binod (very distantly related) are childhood best friends and have lead the Waves For Water charge in Nepal with impressive efficiency and commitment — Paul on the front lines doing demos and taking meetings, Binod working behind the scenes translating documents, logging data and planning presentations. Together, with their military background and experience organizing/leading trekking tours, they are a logistical dream team.


    Binod's compound. Hospitals. The car. Colleges. Restaurants. Parks. Government offices. The side of the road. The office is wherever it needs to be. No pretense. No pomp and circumstance. If the location is enough to get the job done, then it will suffice.


    I had an idea in my head of what this work entailed. I expected to be delivering water filters to rural villages and tent camps, remnant bricks of fallen homes moved hastily to the side. I expected tears of sadness to turn to tears of joy. But one of the main lessons I learned from this experience was that we're not always on the front lines. And we shouldn't be. Because if someone else has an existing network we can tap into, then we really don't need to be seen. Establish partners. Train them. Empower them. On to the next.

    Much of my time interning under Paul and Binod was spent watching the mechanics of this system in action. We did things like:

    • Replenish Srijana Singh and two other nurses with 20 filters. Already trained with our system, they'd take the filters to a health post in Ghusel, a village in the southern Kathmandu Valley, to distribute and train the recipients in proper use.
    • Deliver 50 filters to Laxmi Tamang, head of the Midwife Society of Nepal, who is distributing the systems in birthing centers throughout Nepal. She was so grateful for the support and said, "Thank you for doing what the rest of the organizations can't seem to do."
    • Meet with a professor at a public health college, who connected W4W with Nepal's Director General of Education. With this connection we're working to get a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which clears a lot of red tape and would help us get the filters in more schools.

    Replenishments. Planning. Meetings. Monitoring. Evaluating. And yes, training. We did the brown-water-to-clear-water magic trick and turned skeptics to believers with one swig. Then they took the systems, eager to deliver them to people in need. Eager to be magicians.


    Binod had a lead on a kid, Madan, who was helping remote villages in the Northeast after a series of devastating landslides. With that, Paul, a local photographer named Lachpa, our driver, Vishnu, and I loaded the car and set off from Kathmandu. The 10 hour drive to Okhaldlunga took us on the scariest roads I've ever experienced (NOTE: I Googled it and found that on a list of the 25 most dangerous roads in the world, "The Himalayan Roads" — yes, all of them — were No. 5). The route was narrow and mostly dirt, had no lane divisions and often curved along steep cliff edges that dropped hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet. Just after lunch, we were descending a straightaway on a mild grade when the brakes of our SUV went out. Vishnu (whose namesake is the Hindu god of "preservation and protection") steered the vehicle away from the 150-foot drop and up a dirt embankment to stop us. The car nearly rolled, but we managed to get out safely. We dusted ourselves off and looked around. Everyone was OK. So we continued on. Paul arranged another vehicle and we made it to Okhaldlunga by nightfall. Madan was waiting patiently, and we did the training before we even checked into our rooms. He'd take the 30 filters to the people of Prapcha, who'd been displaced after their village was cut off from a landslide.


    It's daunting, this work. The scale of need is massive and there's a strong sense of urgency. So you move quickly and never stop thinking and questioning and strategizing. Like you're running a race without a finish line. Here in Nepal, the rubble is nowhere near cleared. Aftershocks continue. Millions are displaced and here come the monsoons, here come the landslides. But probably the biggest lesson I learned from this trip is to focus on what's in front of you. Keep it simple. We have filters. People need them. And if you can bridge that gap — with hundreds of people or even just one — then you've made a difference. You've done your job. You've earned a beer. Then wake up tomorrow and do it again."

    -Taylor Paul

    Madan K.C., 23 years old from Kathmandu, post-training and pre-distribution to the village of Prapcha

    Brake failure doesn't mean mission failure. On the road to Okhaldlunga, this was a minor speed bump

    Country director Paul Rai, training the trainers.

    The best kind of bucket list

    After a successful pilot phase in the village of Ghusel, three nurses are restocked with 20 filters

    Nepal works on a long road to recovery — day by day, brick by brick

    Jun 04 - 2015Field Update // 3

    Aside from monitoring the news, and communicating with Jon, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was, this one would be really extreme.

    I landed in Kathmandu late the night of the 17th with my brother Spencer Driggs, (all photo credits go to Spencer) who joined me to help document our relief efforts and courier a resupply of 800 filters.

    Outside the airport, we were met by Paul Rai, a former Nepalese Army Medic, Team Himalaya Guide, and our badass point man on the ground. Paul is a very like-able guy with an infectious laugh, a vast cultural and geographical understanding of the region, and a no nonsense approach to the mission.

    We loaded up the truck and headed for the Waves for Water HQ's, about 20 minutes from the airport. With very few streetlights most of the damage was concealed by the darkness of the night. The exception was the debris that lined the streets and the makeshift tent cities that populated any available open space.

    Paul informed me that these tents were occupied by the people whose homes had been destroyed and by those who were afraid to go back into unstable buildings, for fear of another quake. As we settled in I couldn't help thinking about how sketched out it felt to be sleeping indoors, but our building looked solid and showed no signs of damage.

    The following morning we woke to discover the true story and aftermath of what back-to-back earthquakes can do. The majority of damaged homes and buildings had long ago been constructed with either brick & concrete or traditional stones & mud mortar. These structures were never designed to withstand the forces of 7 + magnitude earthquakes.

    Piles of debris now stand in the place of what was once someone's home or business. Yet, amidst all the devastation, there were some silver linings. First, all of the earthquakes struck during the day. Because the Nepalese people typically spend their days outside the home, (farming and working) the potential number of causalities. was dramatically reduced. Secondly, from a Waves For Water response perspective, we had an extensive network of point of contacts (poc's) in country prior to the earthquakes. Many of these relationships originated with other disaster responses and projects W4W has done over the years.

    Continuing the groundwork laid by our first wave: Jon Rose, Ethan Lovell and Ryan Sirianni – and second wave, Nicholas Kreider, our strategy focused on monitoring and evaluating existing implementations as well as resupplying networks already well established before Spencer and I arrived on the scene. These included key partners like the Nepalese Army, BGN's, FORE, and CNF Nepal.

    We traveled and carried out trainings and distributions in 8 districts around Nepal, but one implementation that really affected me was in Gorkha, a region close to the China border, a four hour drive through mountain switchbacks from Kathmandu Valley.

    As this area sustained tremendous damage, a contact reached out asking us to bring our clean-water systems to schools throughout the district, which had over 425 primary and secondary schools. As a new father I felt compelled to help these children and wanted their schools to be up and running with clean water as soon as possible.

    Throughout the post quake recovery process, schools become a safe haven for students, providing temporary relief from the daily struggles their families face at home. And we especially wanted to make an impact here, with the children who will become the next generation of clean-water advocates stepping up to help on the front lines in years to come.

    Our first stop was a group of thirty-three teachers in Benighat, who ended up meeting us along the main highway because access to their community was blocked by a landslide. We improvised and held our training in the back of a produce market before heading another 2 hours northwest to meet the second group of sixty teachers. The response was fantastic and speaks directly to our strategy of helping the helpers in the community.

    As I reflect on my trip, I leave thinking about the challenges facing the Nepalese people. Most being farmers, they face a significant dilemma: spend the time, limited resources and energy to rebuild their homes in preparation for the monsoon season? or prep the land for the next planting in order to have food. The truth of the matter is there simply isn't enough time to do both.

    It is unfortunate that events such as natural disasters become the motivating force for positive change, but I do return home very encouraged by the dedication of our all-star networks who have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to rebuilding, and helping their fellow countrymen and women. In the midst of the current devastating circumstances, it is an honor to work side-by-side with such amazing people.

    -Christian Driggs

    note: Since Hurricane Sandy, Christian Driggs has been helping Waves For Water on disaster relief projects around the world, including Typhoon Hayain in the Philippines and Hurricane Odile in Baja California. In between these types of emergency response efforts, he has also helped us in the ongoing war against water-borne disease in places like Nicaragua, Indonesia and Angola.

    May 26 - 2015Video Update

    W4W // NEPAL from Waves For Water on Vimeo.

    May 13 - 2015Field Update // 2

    We have been working tirelessly since we landed two weeks ago and today I carved out a couple hours to get caught up and update you all on the progress. Then, half way through writing this a massive quake hit. We have been experiencing aftershocks every day but this was just measured at 7.3 with a depth of 9 miles and duration of 45 sec. This is massive, and a serious blow to so many of the already compromised structures. I was on the second story of a 4 story building and ran out to the balcony to get a better perspective… everything was falling over and I had to bear hug one of the large pillars that help to hold up the entire building. I had no time to run down the stairs. There was a couple moments when it really punched that I thought the building might go down. Our teams that are scattered around the region are ok. Cell service is jammed but i was able to text back and forth with everyone. The rest of our day of work is a wash with everyone in the entire region camped outside and understandably rattled. Grateful that we are not under a bunch of rubble, I will continue to finish this update from the safety of an outside open courtyard… but I do it with a heavy heart as I know this was another big blow for many of the small communities that we have been working in.

    I always speak about empowerment being the key focus to our program, in any country we are working - primarily, the development of local networks that will manage and sustain the program long after we've gone. But it has risen to a whole new level here in Nepal due to the nature of this disaster and specifically the geographic predicament - simply put, we can't build and empower a local network within a community if we can't get there!

    As you can well imagine the access to many of the hard hit rural areas is very difficult with all of the land slides that have wiped out the dirt roads and/or trails connecting them. In some cases relief teams are leaving on 6 day walking treks just to reach one small village. Which is absolutely worth it, yet very time consuming and unfortunately slow… There is also a fairly limited supply of choppers in comparison to how many outlying areas are in need of assistance. The government has commandeered most of the private chopper companies and have them running nonstop delivering aid and pulling the wounded out. Even still, there are many villages that they can't access due to the LZ's being compromised or simply not there at all. It's also especially hard for the choppers in some cases with high altitude villages because the air is thinner, which prevents the chopper from taking its normal weight capacity… resulting in more trips needed.

    So with this all in mind I have shifted our approach a bit. In addition to the strikes we are personally doing based of the organic local intel coming to us, we have been engaging and facilitating a bunch of other relief groups (big and small) that are focusing on specific regions or villages. Using the "train the trainer" model we are essentially able to give them a new tool to add into the rest of their relief plans for that area. This has proved quite effective in maximizing our footprint of impact, with the resources we have.

    As a result, in collaboration with all these different teams, we have been able to activate in 8 districts. However, there are still so many places that haven't been reached. I am happy with this initial start but we're also working tirelessly to activate more teams to spread the reach of the program. Even if they are one small team that will hike for a week to get a village, I'm bringing them into the fold. In addition to the dozen or so groups we've activated, we have about 6 new networks that we're plugging into, scheduled for this week, that will all be hitting new areas.

    This two pronged approach has been really well suited for this particular disaster - as our own unit, we will always be able to identify problem areas and implement accordingly, but by arming (and training) other teams with filters the reach is enormously amplified.

    Some of the key partnerships have been more traditional and large in scale, such as the NHRC (Ministry of Health) and the Nepalese Army. They have both fully embraced our program and are implementing filter systems daily in various tent camps and hospitals they're managing, in and around Kathmandu. Because of this there are now 27 camps and 8 hospitals that have a consistent and reliable source of clean water - both for the victims and workers staying there. We have also activated an organization called CNFNepal, which is solely focused on providing for orphanages around the entire KTM valley. Since training them, they've implemented to 25 orphanages, with 26 more scheduled over the next week.

    The other two larger groups are both military - The Canadian Army and the British Gurkha's. The Canadians are based in arguably the hardest hit district of Sindhupalchok. They are administering a range of aid supplies and now, that includes our water filter program. The British Gurkha's are doing really targeted strikes to specific villages, primarily focused on distributing ShelterBox kits, and they are now also incorporating our filter program into the fold.

    Then there are the more grass roots groups we've activated, such as Karma Flights (great smaller NGO based out of Pokhara), who have set up a support base camp in one of the valleys connected to many hard hit villages in the Gorkha district, and Bali based NGO Bye Bye Plastic Bags who are focused on helping the village of Palchowk in Sindhupalchok District. They have both had great response in target areas villages with our filter program. Another couple groups are The Red Panda Network (a conservation group out of Kathmandu) that are providing mobile medical clinics in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts, as well as TEAM Nepal that has a children's home (for past 15 yrs) in Talamarang, Sindhupalchok.

    As I said, this is a good start considering all the logistical limitations here, but the scope of this thing is massive and it will just take time to reach everywhere - there's no way around it.

    Lastly, we are getting an official MOU + certificate from the NHRC (Ministry of Health) on Thurs, acknowledging the partnership we have developed with them and the official sanctioning of our program here. This will help a lot to navigate through the system here moving forward.

    Thank you again to everyone who has supported and encouraged us in this… it IS making a difference.

    I'll keep you posted as best I can…


    May 04 - 2015Field Update // 1


    The term "hit the ground running" is the best way to sum up our first days here in Nepal…

    We have been powering nonstop. Building good local networks in many of the hard hit districts... I'm a firm believer in the empowerment model rather than a top down approach. Whether it's our disaster relief initiatives or our long term development programs I feel that local empowerment and facilitation is the key factor to a truly successful and sustainable program. I look at our program as a bridge of sorts, connecting certain solutions to a certain problem set.

    Using that approach, the first order of business for us after a disaster strikes is to establish good points of contact in the hardest hit areas to get accurate intel - where are the devastated communities located? What is the (rough) population within them? Are the survivors in tent camps or shelters? Are there other aid groups there already and what are they working on? Etc, etc… This is all the type of info that we need to design a good action plan once on the ground.

    That said, we were able to really activate right away, engaging our three existing networks - two Himalayan Alpine Guide companies with extensive history and experience throughout the region and the Nepalese Army (of whom I worked closely with during a UN project in Haiti shortly after their quake in 2010). We have also met with (and trained) a dozen or so smaller international and local groups that we donated a small batch of filter systems to each, for their relief efforts. In addition to our bigger strategy, I have always liked the idea of finding badass local grass roots efforts to empower - with a "train the trainer" approach, we give them some filter systems and train them in the implementation process, ultimately giving them another tool to help the communities they're working in.

    Our first field strike was to one of the mountain villages on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The lead came from a local medical clinic that we set up with filters on the day prior. They reported that no relief had made it to the village yet and that out of 120 homes only 5 remain in tact. We made our way up the mountain along a series of windy dirt roads and found exactly what the clinic said - a small village, perched along a narrow ridge-line, left in shambles. Most of these rural villages are low income by nature, which means their huts are simple in design, made from locally sourced bricks and mud - in other words, not good for a 7.9 quake! Every house/structure we saw was either reduced to a complete pile of rubble or left fractured in half. It looked like something out of a war zone - damage that looked as if it could only have come by a missile or some sort of explosive.

    From that ridge-line I could see all the other ones on each side, along the same range. I began to see a pattern - all the communities positioned along the spine of each ridge-line were decimated. What locals have been saying is that as the quake shook and the energy came up from beneath the surface, it got sort of funneled and concentrated towards the high points, creating a more powerful punch in those spots - like an explosion rather than just a shaking. Whether or not that is a fact is still unclear, but it certainly made sense to me when I looked at each ridge-line village leveled to the ground. The structures settled lower along the hillsides weren't hit nearly as hard.

    Coming over here, I always had the strategy to try and focus our efforts (based on quality local intel) on the the smaller more remote villages that aren't getting the attention from the media and/or larger aid groups. The "forgotten" pockets, so to speak. Much like Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines there is such an overwhelming area of destruction to this thing that many of the outlying areas get simply overlooked. It's nobodies fault, but rather a scale that is just too massive for every need to be met. I also like this approach to avoid duplication of efforts among the other various aid groups. Well, in this case, it has proved to be a good strategy - we were the first relief team to visit this village since the quake hit. And though their needs are many, they can now check access to clean water off their list…!

    One of the other main outlets we've distributed filters to is the Nepalese Military… through my contacts there we have already fully outfitted all of their Army hospitals with filtration systems. These hospitals are overloaded and clean water is actually one of the biggest issues - not only medicinally for cleaning the wounded, but for a lot of the local (non-military) staff that are living in tents on the grounds. Along with the empowerment of local grass roots groups that I mentioned earlier, this Army hospital effort falls under the same "help the helper" strategy. I love being able to help any groups that are tirelessly helping the larger population.

    At this point, we have implemented 300 water filter systems (enough to provide 30k people with clean water) through the two larger outlets (mentioned), plus a dozen smaller networks, spanning across 4 districts. Things are going well and the framework of our program here is taking good shape… So much more work to do but we have a solid foundation in place and a steady flow filters to distribute, thanks to all the support that has come in.

    We will be back out into the field tomorrow for a few days implementing to some of the villages in the Gorkha district (near quake epicenter). I'll keep you posted on the progress over the coming days…

    Thank you again to all of you who have supported and encouraged this initiative…


    Statistics & Progress

    Destination Nepal

    Funds Raised
    $317,925 of $350,000

    Impact 350,000+