An IsraAID volunteer uses a bicycle pump to help a Nepalese man breathe easier. An IsraAID volunteer uses a bicycle pump to help a Nepalese man breathe easier. An IsraAID volunteer uses a bicycle pump to help a Nepalese man breathe easier. (Photo: Courtesy IsraAID)

How a simple bicycle pump helps earthquake victims breathe

An unconventional low-tech solution is saving lives in a hard-to-reach locale.

Nepal’s deadly spring earthquakes were so powerful that they shifted Mount Everest by 1 inch. Now, the country has even bigger mountains to climb than just rebuilding broken homes. With the monsoons on their way, looming health risks are aid workers’ biggest concern.

Aid workers from Israel have already helped some sufferers in Nepal breathe easier. Challenged to help alleviate sickness in remote, disaster-stricken villages, the doctor volunteers from the nonprofit IsraAID organization found a low-tech solution to deliver medicine to chronic sufferers of bronchitis.

When electric-powered nebulizers to deliver the bronchitis medicine could not be transported or used in off-grid, zero electricity situations, the mother of invention stepped in: necessity. Without a delivery solution, the villagers in Nepal would continue to suffer from shortness of breath, and in the worst-case scenario, respiratory failure.

The Israeli volunteers found a way to use simple bicycle tire pumps that can work well as impromptu, low-cost nebulizers.

The IsraAID medical team treating an elderly patient in Nepal after the earthquake.The IsraAID medical team treating an elderly patient in Nepal after the earthquake. (Photo: Courtesy IsraAID)

The Israeli aid team first applied the bicycle pump solution while on a mission to help the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.

Aid organizations from the United States to Germany have been in Nepal helping out to ensure that villagers have access to health care. But with so many people cut off from aid trucks, sometimes doctors and nurses just need to make do.

The health problems in Nepal are especially challenging due to the country's living conditions and climate. While Nepalese villagers bask in crisp, fresh mountain air most of the time, inside their homes is a different story: extended families are cramped inside one-room homes, where there is a constant wood-burning stove lit for cooking.

The damp and the fumes cause chronic bronchitis, and when aid teams arrived on the scene, they reported some grandmothers turning blue from lack of oxygen.

Applied by a doctor or nurse, simple bicycle tire pumps are now being used by nurses to inject drugs into masks for quick relief and treatment.

“As someone with experience in helping local communities and educating westerners about disaster relief, I know it’s critical that we continue to increase preparation and raise awareness for helping people in distress find local, and sometimes creative solutions in less than ideal situations. It can mean life or death,” says Prashant Mehta, a social entrepreneur from New York City.

He is a co-founder of Conscious Step, a company that provides education and charity money to developing communities, through the sale of branded socks. “Whether it’s bicycle pumps or any everyday objects, it’s good that aid workers are able to jump to action so the local community in Nepal can rebuild their homes and bodies,” Mehta, who's worked in Nepal, tells From The Grapevine.

Global aid workers and social companies know the initial aid relief is just the beginning of the mountain that the Nepalese will have to climb. The aftershocks in Nepal may have finished for now, but efforts must still continue to help them find practical solutions to rebuild their country.

An IsraAID volunteer tests the structural integrity of one of 300 temporary shelters being built in Nepal in advance of monsoon season.An IsraAID volunteer tests the structural integrity of one of 300 temporary shelters being built in Nepal in advance of monsoon season. (Photo: Courtesy IsraAID)

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