Information and news about Disaster Relief

Top 10 Disaster Relief Nonprofits

In 2017, 318 natural disasters were recorded worldwide with repercussions in at least 122 countries. These disasters killed over 9,500 people and affected 96 million. The majority of those affected by natural disasters reside in India and Sierra Leone.

Natural Disasters and Poverty

According to the World Bank, natural disasters force 26 million people into poverty annually and can erase years of poverty reduction progress. The estimated effects that natural disasters can have on welfare in most countries is equivalent to a loss of $520 billion per year in consumption.

Natural disasters and poverty are linked together as impoverished populations are unequally affected and have an inability to subsist. The poor are more likely to be exposed to natural hazards due to climate change. Furthermore, those affected lose a portion of their income and are often unable to receive aid from the government and financial systems.

An example of the disproportionate burden of natural disasters endured by the poor is Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar. Following the cyclone in 2008, at least 50 percent of poor farmers were forced to sell land as means to pay off debt after the storm. The cyclone’s social and economic consequences still exist 10 years later.

President Jim Yong Kim of World Bank Group said: “Storms, floods and droughts have dire human and economic consequences, with poor people often paying the heaviest price. Building resilience not only makes economic sense, it is a moral imperative.”

In order to rebuild a country after a natural disaster, there must be an immediate response from governments and disaster relief programs. Those affected need access to resources like food, shelter and medical care. Various disaster relief nonprofits are working to lessen the burden of the impacts of natural disasters around the world.

Top 10 Disaster Relief Nonprofits

  1. The International Red Cross (IRC) acts as the globe’s largest humanitarian network, delivering instant aid with trained disaster responders and relief supplies. By supplying water containers, shelter tools and cooking kits, IRC helps 100 million people who are affected by natural disasters every year. To date, IRC has also reunited over 9,900 families separated by natural disasters.
  2. All Hands and Hearts is one of the world’s leading disaster relief nonprofits. After All Hands and Happy Hearts merged into one group, they began working nationally and internationally to provide disaster relief. The group created the “Smart Response” method to acknowledge the immediate and long-term effects of natural disasters. Over 35,000 volunteers act as first responders to rebuild disaster-resilient homes and schools for affected communities.
  3. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) provides emergency response medical aid to communities affected by natural disasters, epidemics and conflict. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, MSF began treating those injured within minutes. MSF offers long-term care to affected populations and distributes medical disaster kits to countries even before they arrive on the ground.
  4. Samaritan’s Purse is a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization that works with ministry partners to meet the urgent needs of crisis areas. Samaritan’s Purse distributes staple food kits, relief essentials, emergency medical care and, when needed, constructs traditional shelters for families in recovery.
  5. Active in over 80 countries, Direct Relief International improves the lives of those affected during emergencies by providing shelter, water, food and medicine. Direct Relief tailors medical aid to the location’s circumstances while prioritizing search-and-rescue, emergency medical services and logistical flexibility.
  6. Currently responding to the global food security crisis, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) also responds to global disasters, funding relief kits, shelter and food to disaster-hit areas. MCC works to rebuild homes, provide employment, help individuals cope with trauma and prepare for future natural disasters. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, MCC educated populations on secure building construction.
  7. REACT International is a nonprofit organization consisting of volunteers who work to increase local resources in an effort to expand disaster relief work. REACT teams use communication technology to provide first-aid, special equipment and tend to other needs of the community.
  8. AmeriCares has three main courses of action: Ready, Respond and Recover. This group tries to anticipate need based on vulnerable areas and have supplies on hand so that they can respond as quickly as possible. Responders work with government and health sectors to prepare local hospitals and position medical supplies. AmeriCares remains in the affected location as long as necessary to help the health system recover and prepare for future disasters.
  9. Since 1988, International Relief Teams (IRT) has been mobilizing volunteers to provide immediate and long-term relief, medical supplies and funding to partner organizations. In the last 30 years, IRT has deployed 420 disaster relief teams, distributed over $100 million in emergency supplies and assisted families in 95 global disasters, including the Armenian earthquake in 1988.
  10. ShelterBox puts families first and believes that no family should be without shelter. They provide emergency shelter and tools to lessen the impact following a disaster and enable a faster recovery for families.

Listed above are only a few nonprofit organizations making an effort to relieve communities of as much suffering as possible after a disaster. Though there are many more disaster relief nonprofits dedicated to providing aid, this list highlights some of the support is available after a disaster. For a more comprehensive list of disaster relief nonprofits, take a look at The Humanitarian Travel website.

Since natural disasters can have catastrophic effects, the issue is being taken seriously as various improvements are being made annually. In order to successfully rebuild communities, it is crucial to support disaster relief nonprofits with a long-term impact and policies in favor of foreign aid.

– Diane Adame

Photo: Flickr

 

 

Cyclone Gita in TongaTonga, or the Kingdom of Tonga, is a Polynesian archipelago of 170 islands of which 36 are inhabited. With a population of 109,008 people, Tongans rely heavily on each other and the little they have to survive.

As of 2016, 22.5 percent of the population lived at, or below, the poverty line. In fact, 8,456 people lived off of $3.10 or less a day, and 1,125 people of that lived off of $1.90 a day. According to Pacific Islands Report, Tonga suffers from poverty because Tongans need to depend on overseas trades, tourism, aid donors and private sectors to bring money into their economy. At the same time, the nation lacks access to basic living essentials and services, and face poor climate.

The Impact of Cyclone Gita in Tonga

On February 3, 2018, Tongans were hit with a tropical cyclone named Cyclone Gita — the most impactful tropical cyclone to hit Tonga in recorded history. After three long weeks, Gita heavily affected 70 percent, or 50,000 people — one-third of them being children. While only two people died from this tragedy, hundreds of homes, schools, buildings, churches and agricultural land were destroyed.

Specifically, 171 homes were destroyed, more than 1,131 homes were damaged, about 5,700 people sought shelters, 129 classrooms in 83 schools were damaged (leaving 25,000 students affected and a total of 35,000 children affected) and $152 million worth of damage hit agricultural land.

Cyclone Gita put Tongans at more of a risk as this population mainly depends on fishing and agriculture for an income. Nearly 36 percent of Tonga is agricultural land and agriculture accounts for 30 percent of the GDP.

Also, 98 percent of students were left without a school. Instead of working in the fields for income or going to school, Tongans had to refocus their attention on rebuilding their country.

How the U.S. Helped People Affected by Cyclone Gita in Tonga

In 1967, the U.S. brought the U.S. Peace Corps to Tonga to work and build a relationship with the Tongans. In 1970, the U.S. and Tonga began a bilateral relationship after the U.S. accredited Kevin Franzheim II, the U.S. Ambassador, to New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

Since then, the U.S. and Tonga have held a strong relationship with each other through trades and donations. In February, USAID donated $100,000 to assist the people affected by Cyclone Gita in Tonga; every year, the U.S. provides $21 million to the Pacific Island funds.

The World Bank also provided $14.95 million to the Pacific Resilience Program, a program dedicated to strengthening awareness and preparedness for natural disasters.

Lasse Melgaard, Resident Representative from the South Pacific, said funds to the Pacific Resilience Program will go towards rebuilding 30 schools, which will put 9,000 students into a safer-built school.

Steady Support & Recovery

Other countries including New Zealand, India, Asia and Australia have also funded Tonga in relief efforts by donating money and humanitarian supplies. Although the people of Tonga still struggle to put families back into homes and children into school, the Tongan people continue to help each other rebuild their homes from the ground up. The unfortunate news is that it is expected to take months for Tonga to recover, but the good news is that there is more than enough helping hands to speed up the process.

– Kristen Uedoi
Photo: Flickr

affordable housingMakeshift tent communities become semi-permanent homes for those who have lost everything to natural disasters. Though housing charities like San Francisco-based New Story have built 850 houses for those affected by natural disasters since 2015, the cost and time it takes to build these houses are hindering the progress.

With plans to build an entire 3-D printed community in earthquake-prone El Salvador by the end of this year, New Story is partnering with ICON to print affordable housing for those that have no choice but to live in tents. Of the 850 houses built so fair, New Story has raised funds for 1,600. Solutions like the 3-D printed house will ensure that available funds are utilized efficiently, transitioning more communities from tents to secure shelters sooner.

Printing 3-D Affordable Housing

The current cost for one New Story house equipped with running water, a sanitary bathroom and concrete floor is $6,500. In March of this year, ICON, New Story’s tech construction partner, printed a 3-D house that only cost $4,000 and was built in 24 hours.

Specifically designed for disaster relief housing, the 3-D printer that built this prototype is made from aluminum, making the printer lightweight and easily transportable. The printer has a generator built in should a power outage arise. Designed to withstand worst conditions, ICON’s 3-D printer is revolutionizing affordable housing solutions, specifically for those devastated by natural disasters.

So far, houses built by New Story have improved the lives of over 6,000 people. Through traditional construction, houses have been built in the following places:

  • Haiti – Leveque, Labodrie, Minoterie, Gonaives
  • El Salvador – Nuevo Cuscatlan, Ahuachapan
  • Bolivia – Mizque

How 3-D Printed Houses Change Lives

Living in a secure shelter helps people out of poverty. Not having the worry of where clean water will come from, the floor turning into mud from the rain or someone robbing the home in the middle of the night allows people to focus on things other than survival.

Prior to living in their New Story houses, a community in Labodrie, Haiti, lived in tents for nearly six years after the 2010 earthquake. Many families were separated due to poor living conditions that were unsafe for children. Living in secure shelters bumped the community’s employment rate up 16 percent and reunited families. 150 homes were built equipped with clean running water, bathrooms and concrete floors.

Also devastated by the 2010 earthquake was Leveque, Haiti. People had been living in tent cities before New Story stepped in. With access to clean water, bathrooms and concrete floors, 75 percent of children in this community now attend school.

In El Salvador, 90 homes were built in Nuevo Cuscatlan and Ahuchapan with the help of New Story. In Nuevo Cuscatlan, 16 percent of homeowners started a business from their home, a playground was built in the community for the children and 66 percent of these children are attending school.

The Future of 3-D Printing

The impact of living in a solid home is the difference between surviving and thriving in a community. With the help of new technology, affordable housing will be built in even more communities than in the past. In addition to helping those affected by natural disasters, 3-D printing homes has the potential to help with a global housing shortage caused by rapid city growth and unaffordable housing prices.

According to City Lab, in some developing nations, “housing costs exceed incomes by more than 3000 percent.”  Disaster area or not, unaffordable housing puts people at risk for poverty.  Continued innovation by companies like ICON and New Story will build stronger, self-sustaining communities in places that are most susceptible to natural and manmade disaster.

– Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Jamaica
Even though Jamaica is now a predominately middle-class nation, poverty still resides in the more rural areas of the country where crime, lack of education, unemployment and natural disasters are common. As a way to combat these issues, the Wesley Foundation sends missionaries to alleviate poverty and make an easier life for civilians.

Why is There Poverty in Jamaica?

There are 14,000 Jamaican citizens living in extreme poverty, and in 2015, it was estimated that the unemployment rate in Jamaica was 13.5 percent. Unemployment runs high throughout the country, with some of the only jobs available being farming, fishing and tourism-based positions — the latter of which bringing in the most income.

Poverty also stems from high youth crime rates. Children living in poverty in Jamaica are often orphaned, a status which makes them targets for gangs and street violence. Jamaican children also face unequal opportunities in receiving secondary education. The high cost of secondary education makes a lot of children living in rural areas of the country unable to attend school, especially paired with the region’s frequent lack of adequate school supplies and teachers. These occurrences make it even more difficult for children living in poverty in Jamaica to receive a proper education.

According to The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, Jamaica is the third most unprotected country from natural disasters in the world. The country is affected by hurricanes, flooding, landslides and earthquakes. The development of towns in environmentally sensitive lands has increased with the growth of population and urban poverty, which makes an even larger number of people affected by natural disasters.

What is the Wesley Foundation Doing?

In an interview with University of Georgia student, Madison Fields, she recounts how she spent her sophomore spring break with the Wesley Foundation helping fight poverty in Jamaica in March 2018. The Wesley Foundation is an Christian organization that helps mold college-aged students to become closer to Christ through their efforts on different college campuses.

Fields and the other missionaries spent their time in Mandeville, Jamaica where they built sidewalks for students and teachers at Youth With a Mission (YWAM). YWAM is a Christian-based organization that provides learning facilities for children in different parts of the globe.

A Foundation of Sustainable Solutions

Fields said that the YWAM school in Mandeville is located at the base of a mountain — a spot where heavy rain runoff collects and causes major flooding, and students and teachers were often injured from walking to school in the deluged grass. To solve this issue, Fields and the other missionaries dug up the grass, mixed concrete with shovels and carried buckets of mixed concrete and water up a hill to where the school is. “The sidewalks definitely helped the teachers and kids walking from building to building,” Fields said. “It helps especially when it rains because it provided a sturdy area for them to walk on that doesn’t get washed away.”

The Wesley Foundation also helped subside poverty in Jamaica by contributing to “Homes for Help” — volunteers built a home for a single mother and her children, and renovated the roof of a school to withstand tropical storms. “The base was a concrete slab they originally had to put their pigs in but we used it to build the house,” Fields said. “And then at a school, we painted the roof with roof compound to keep it from weathering too bad and make it last longer.”

Through sustainable efforts such as these, the Wesley Foundation should continue to pave the way in creating positive global impact.

– McKenzie Hamby

Photo: Pixabay

help GuatemalaCurrently, in Guatemala, 200 people are missing, 110 people are deceased and more than 1.7 million people have been impacted by the eruption of the Fuego volcano that began on June 3. It was the nation’s most severe volcanic eruption in 45 years and the size of this disaster has compelled many around the world to act.

Images of the volcano’s victims and its devastating impact are easily accessible on social media, as are advocacy and volunteer opportunities. Keep reading for a few examples of how to help Guatemala’s Fuego victims and bring awareness to the crisis.

Advocacy on Social Media

Social media has made advocacy from home possible and is one of the easiest ways to get involved in a cause. Several hashtags have popped up on social media platforms since the eruption began as a way to raise awareness along with fundraising and donation opportunities. With a simple search on Instagram or Twitter for any of the hashtags mentioned below, users can see pictures and updates on life in Guatemala after the volcano.

Examples of popular hashtags include:

  • #PrayForGuatemala
  • #GuatemalaEstoyContigo
  • #TodosPorGuate
  • #VolcanDeFuego
  • #FuerzaGuatemala

Finding Volunteers on Facebook

Another social media site that has offered ways to help Guatemala is Facebook. Beyond matching donations, the Crisis Response page on Facebook for the volcanic eruption has become a way for locals to find and give help. Facebook users can post to the page and list what they are offering or need, their location and how to get in contact with them.

Scrolling through the page shows people offering food, shelter or supplies, requesting help and asking for volunteers in specific locations. What is even more impressive is the number of posts that have already been completed or closed. This is yet another example of a relatively easy and effective way to help victims of Fuego’s eruption.

Red Cross Volunteers Working Hard

The Red Cross, led by the CruzRojaGT or Guatemalan arm of the organization, has been working tirelessly to provide rescue operations and support to Guatemalans. This organization has no intention of leaving soon and is putting long-term plans into place in order to keep helping survivors of this crisis.

The organization administered an emergency appeal to maintain programs in Guatemala to support 6,000 vulnerable people for at least a year. More than two weeks after the initial eruption, there are still 1,600 volunteers helping families evacuated during the eruption.

The American Red Cross is offering help as well, with programs set up to help people find loved ones they may have lost contact with in Guatemala. Beyond donating to the cause, sharing this information and keeping up to date on the current conditions are great ways to get involved with the Red Cross efforts.

Donations Flow In to Help Guatemala

In horrible times of crisis, sometimes the only positives are outpourings of support from the global community. There are many organizations and nonprofits accepting donations to provide help to burn victims, shelters, supplies and future rebuilding. GoFundMe set up a page with verified campaigns aiming to raise money to help Guatemala. Many of these funds were started by Guatemalans or people with ties to the country and some have already raised over $100,000.

This is partially made possible by the thousands of social media users who have used hashtags and posts to bring awareness to these causes and the ongoing impacts of the eruption. After the dust settles in Guatemala, it is important to keep sharing and being advocates for the millions of people impacted by Fuego’s eruption and to bring awareness to this crisis.

– Alexandra Eppenauer
Photo: Flickr

the Kubulau Community
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), an environmental non-profit based out of Oakland, CA, is working to protect the world’s coral reefs and the people who rely on them. Fiji, an archipelago over of 300 islands in the South Pacific, is one of four major regions where CORAL works. Fiji is of particular interest to CORAL because the island is home to 42 percent of the world’s coral species and contains upwards of 10,000 square kilometers of coral reef.

CORAL and the Kubulau Community

In 2005, CORAL formed an alliance with the Kubulau Community located on the island of Vanua Levu, north of Fiji’s principal island Viti Levu.  The Kubulau Community sought CORAL so as to improve management of the Namena Marine Reserve between these two islands and project the incredible biodiversity of the Fijian coral reefs.

Namena is the largest no-take marine protected area (MPA) in Fiji as it covers part of the traditional fishing grounds (or “qoliqoli”) of the Kubulau community. The people of Kubualu and CORAL recognized the environmental, cultural and economic benefits of ensuring longevity for their coral reefs. Over-fishing and poaching in their traditional fishing grounds, as well as an overall lack of management, threatened the livelihood and cultural values of the Kubulau people.

Alicia Srinivas, the Associate Program Manager for CORAL, described the deep connection between the coral reefs and the people of Kubualu, saying, “Coral reefs and these communities are inextricably linked; you can’t have one without the other.”

The creation of Namena and the fishing restrictions that accompany it — parts of it are no-take zones and in parts limited sustainable fishing is permitted — have ensured the area will remain a viable fishing source into the future.  Also, the protected marine environment attracts tourism, specifically scuba divers, which brings a new source of revenue to the Kubulau people.

 

An Alliance that Benefits the Community

With the support and assistance of CORAL, the Kubulau community formed the Kubualu Resource Management Committee (KRMC) in 2009.  This community-run committee works to protect the sea’s invaluable resources and also works to ensure that the Kubulau people themselves directly benefit from the Namena Marine Reserve.

KRMC and CORAL created a sustainable community fund, to which visitors to Namena are encouraged to donate.  In 2015 alone, visitors donated over $20,000 to the fund. The money goes toward environmental management as well as to the Kubualu Education Fund, which helps Kubulau children attend school. To date, scholarships have benefitted over 200 students.

Rebuilding after Cyclone Winston

Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in February of 2016. The largest tropical cyclone ever recorded, Winston’s damage was unparalleled with wind gusts topping 190 miles per hour. The Kubulau Community was particularly hard-hit; over 80 percent of homes there were destroyed.

The values of community and sustainability, and the money and resources of the improved management of the Namena Marine Reserve, helped the Kubulau community recover after Winston in a way not seen in most other Fijian communities ravaged by the storm.

Immediately after the storm ended, KRMC mobilized all able-bodied members of the community to begin clearing roads, assessing the damage and rebuilding homes. The community was able to begin rehabilitating their destroyed community before receiving any outside assistance because of the unity, organization and monetary resources brought by the creation of the Namena Marine Reserve and the KRMC to their community.

KRMC provided the leadership necessary for Kubulau to start rebuilding after the storm must faster than other Fijian communities without the same leadership or resources. In addition, revenue saved over the years from the voluntary dive fund — as well as $5,000 supporters of CORAL sent to Kubulau — helped the community finance its rebuilding.

Looking Forward

CORAL hopes to replicate the incredible relationship it has with the Kubulau Community elsewhere in Fiji. In 2016, CORAL began working at three additional Fijian sites: Waivunia (on Vanua Levu), Ra (on Vita Levu) and Oneata (on a small island East of Viti Levu).  Srinivas says that CORAL is trying to create win-win situations for both the environment and the people of Fiji.

The win-win situation is evident in Kubulau where the Namena Marine Reserve is protecting coral reefs and issuing in a new era of fiscal and community stability for the Kubulau community. The Kubulau’s success in rebuilding after Winston is further proof of CORAL’s profound impact on this community.

– Abigail Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Building Business After a Natural DisasterWith a rising number of earthquakes, hurricanes and even tsunamis in the world, the need for building business after a natural disaster has also increased. While catastrophe can cause devastation and difficulty, it also creates an opportunity for people and businesses.

A business’ capital, assets and personnel can affect how well a business will recover from a natural disaster. Many businesses in industrial or developed countries have a contingency plan or at least insurance to cover some losses so it can reopen after disaster strikes.

Typically, the bigger the business, the more resources it has access to. However, lack of resources become a bigger obstacle in developing countries. Various agencies from non-governmental organizations to governmental aid produce assistance, but the key is applying it the right way.

Haiti

An organization that gives free food or resources might be necessary or helpful in the short run but can destroy businesses and economy in the long run. One example occurred in Haiti. After suffering from a 2010 earthquake, the country was flooded with various aid programs. It also received an abundance of donated rice, which in the short term fed many people, but eventually destroyed the country’s rice business.

Nepal

Nepal faced similar challenges. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit outside Kathmandu resulted in an immediate struggle with fuel and transportation in the six months that followed. Humanitarian aid still rushed in and provided medical care, temporary schooling and shelter, but the lack of total care also created a vacuum.

Nepal’s tourism and energy sectors were hit hard. The tourist industry had to change its strategy to appeal to the domestic market for building business after a natural disaster. Some restaurants came out with alternative menus based on the resources still available. Nepal still has a long way toward total recovery, but learning how to adjust and be flexible has enabled businesses to survive.

The Caribbean

More recently, hurricane Maria and Irma devastated 30 percent of the northern Caribbean, hitting Anguilla, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands the hardest. Most of the islands rely heavily on tourism. After tending to the general safety of its citizens, the countries’ focus shifted to getting hotels, airports and restaurants back up and running for tourists.

While the Caribbean had help from many outside resources, not all countries have the same access. The turnaround time for some of the islands tourism recovery can be surprisingly short. The British Virgin Islands are focusing their energy on rebuilding the sailing industry and its recovery is expected to take well into 2018. Dominica’s focus is on rebuilding its natural attractions, including reefs. So far, 19 out of 23 major sites have reopened.

The type of business can also impact its resulting success. Haiti has found opportunities for solar energy while Nepal has looked to the potential in its domestic market. The Caribbean was able to bounce back and refocus funds into rebuilding toward their main industry of tourism. Other countries have had to look toward new possibilities building business after a natural disaster as well.

– Natasha Komen

Photo: Wikipedia

worst tsunami ever

On the morning of December 26, 2004, an underwater earthquake with a magnitude of at least 9.1 occurred in the Indian Ocean near the coast of Indonesia. This was no ordinary earthquake, but was one that, due to its location in the ocean, would create a series of the most devastating tsunamis in modern history, destroying massive portions of the Indian Ocean coastline and leaving 14 countries devastated in its wake.

While not the largest tsunami ever recorded (that title goes to the 1958 Lituya Bay tsunami, which reached over 1,700 feet high), the sheer devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami make it the worst tsunami ever. In its wake, the daunting waves left only disrepair and ruin, along with lessons for how to recover from such a hopeless situation and prevent it from happening again.

Because the Indian Ocean lacked an international system to warn the public about tsunamis, most victims were unaware of the approaching danger until it crashed into the shore. The devastating waves first hit India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The four countries received the brunt of the tsunami, being positioned close to the earthquake. Indonesia was hit the hardest, with more than half of the estimated 230,000 deaths occurring on its shores.

Hours later, countries along the eastern coast of Africa, such as South Africa, Madagascar, Somalia, and Kenya, were hit by smaller tsunamis resulting from the same quake. Though casualties were lower, the less developed countries were hit the hardest, because they had little infrastructure in place to protect them from storms and few response systems available.

In areas like Somalia, recovery was slow due to a crippled government and high rates of poverty. Many citizens were left to fend for themselves in the aftermath of the disaster. The greatest problem in East Africa was the damage to infrastructure, which was underdeveloped in places like Somalia, leading to a large displacement of citizens. However, the important question here is not just, “What is the worst tsunami ever?”, but also, “How did the world recover?”

As with many catastrophes, the desolation caused by the 2004 tsunami was met immediately by the best humanity has to offer. The response to the disaster was unprecedented, with more than $6 billion in humanitarian relief sent to the 15 affected countries from around the world. Much of this went towards funding immediate shelter and food for those displaced, improving health systems to decrease the likelihood of disease spreading, revitalizing the affected economies and improving infrastructure. Though a major tragedy, the 2004 tsunami proved to be an example of how well-utilized humanitarian aid can change the world, with many affected areas showing few traces of the disaster by 2009.

In the aftermath of the disaster, experts wondered why the Indian Ocean tsunami had been uniquely devastating. It was largely due to a lack of an international warning system that monitored the Indian Ocean, leaving most victims with little time to evacuate. It was this lack of preparedness that led to the development of an international warning system in early 2005, created by Smith Dharmasaroja, the ridiculed scientist who accurately predicted the tsunami a decade in advance and cautioned that the lack of a warning mechanism could increase casualties.

The area that best encapsulates both the despair and triumph of the Indian Ocean tsunami is Banda Aceh, capital of the province of Aceh located on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. In the aftermath of the tsunami, Aceh was devastated. Very few homes remained, most having been swept away by the massive wave. The river that ran through the city was almost unrecognizable due to the immense flooding that had occurred.

And yet, despite this devastation, Banda Aceh was once again built into a flourishing city, one that is almost incomparable to its state in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. The city is not only a monument to the devastation caused by the worst tsunami ever, but also to the hard work and humanitarianism that assisted those in need and allowed the world to recover.

– Shane Summers

Photo: Flickr

The Fight For Aid to Puerto RicoThe island of Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria’s landfall in September 2017. Power outages, food shortages and a lack of coordination from disaster relief organizations have jeopardized an entire island inhabited by U.S. citizens. Timely aid to Puerto Rico has become detrimental to the island and as the U.S. government’s funding shrinks, so do many of the people’s chances of prosperity.

Insufficient Funding

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello requested approximately $94.4 billion from the U.S. federal government: $31 billion for housing and $17 billion to reestablish power. The federal government initially offered only around $4.7 billion in loans, but the offer has since shrunk. The aid to Puerto Rico from the U.S. has been cut in half, now at around $2.2 billion.

Congress’ plan allocated a total of $90 billion in disaster relief for Texas, Florida and California, combined with Puerto Rico’s aid. In comparison, Hurricane Sandy garnered around $37 billion in aid to New Jersey alone. Needless to say, $90 billion is an insufficient amount to counter the enormous wreckage these four U.S. territories endured in the past year. Aid to Puerto Rico is the most crucial concerning total loss, yet is the least prioritized based on governmental decisions for funding placement.

One reason aid to Puerto Rico is scarce is due to the U.S. Treasury Department’s unwillingness to help, suspecting the small island of having a central cash balance that isn’t low enough, despite the island’s debt of $74 billion.

FEMA explains the $2.2 billion is divvied up between housing repairs, at around only $620 million, and other needs at $510 million. This funding, along with other FEMA programs, has helped 130,000 Puerto Ricans and housed fewer than 10,000. These numbers fall short of what’s needed to supply appropriate aid to Puerto Rico.

Misplaced Trust

The federal government and FEMA have also given enormous funds to small, often understaffed or simply untrustworthy organizations to supply help.

One example is Bronze Star, LLC, a Florida company that was granted 30 million to supply tarps and plastic sheets for temporary roof repairs for those without proper shelter. By November of the same year, the contract was nulled and funding was withdrawn as the company did nothing to deliver. The entire process of approval and cancellation took four crucial weeks.

Another example is Tribute Contracting, LLC, whose sole employee was awarded a lofty $156 million as part of a plan to disperse nearly 30 million meals. The contract and funding were withdrawn after the company served only 50,000 people, failing over 18 million others who requested the nutritional aid in Puerto Rico. Since the cancellation, the owner has publicly accused the U.S. government of making her a scapegoat for FEMA’s decision-making.

Looking Ahead

Aid to Puerto Rico is improving, but there’s still much to do. With FEMA’s teetering funding, much of the island is being repaired by its inhabitants and some private investors looking to help. Still, 16 percent of the island is without electricity, leaving 200,000 U.S. citizens without it for 6 months.

Locals and visitors to the island have already made tremendous improvements and repairs since the hurricane hit, but much more work still needs to be done. Most Puerto Ricans don’t have the luxury of waiting for help to come and are forced to do what they can.

– Toni Paz

Photo: Flickr

SomaliaThe debate over the efficacy of humanitarian aid in impoverished countries has been a hot topic in recent years. Some people believe that humanitarian aid breeds dependence, while others argue that it can exploit some of the most vulnerable people in impoverished countries. To provide better and longer-lasting aid, the U.N., the U.N.’s International Children’s Emergency Fund and the World Health Organization, among others, are taking a new approach to humanitarian aid. The new method, dubbed “A New Way of Working,” combines the short-term aid for emergency relief with long-term development efforts. The organizations are testing this model for development in Somalia, one of the more embattled nations on Earth.

Finding a Solution

Whether it’s disaster relief or funding for infrastructure projects, foreign aid does help people who need it. Despite the horror stories in the news concerning corruption, mishandled aid only accounts for an estimated 9 percent. Not perfect, but not as bad as some purport.

Many issues still plague not only the development in Somalia but in humanitarian aid and global investment around the world. One reason is modern humanitarian assistance finds its roots as a disaster response mechanism, whether it’s man-made or natural, and funds need to be spent within 18 months. Conversely, developmental aid sprung up as a result of colonialism and seeks long-term solutions such as education and agriculture, with funding plans structured in three to five years cycles. So, the projects needed to accomplish these varying goals are often very different.

Development in Somalia: A Guide for Others

Somalia is a country recovering from a two-decade civil war and a 2011 drought that killed over 260,000 people. With the government declaring 2017’s drought another national emergency, aid organizations realized a different approach was necessary.

In January 2018, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the U.N.’s Development Program (UNDP) set out to provide immediate assistance to those in desperate need of water. It also tried to identify the root of the emergency and establish projects that will allow everyday people to tackle the problem on their own when the next drought inevitably comes along.

While this sounds great in theory, there needs to be a practical element for improving development in Somalia. The current drought has lasted three growing seasons and is killing crops and livestock at alarming rates, which precipitates into a nationwide famine. In response, the OCHA-UNDP project built a sand dam in Bandarbeyla.

This dam allowed farmers to maintain their livestock, a vital resource for the agricultural economy in Somalia. Farmers say they can now save up the money they used to have to spend on water. Finally, these aid groups no longer have to focus solely on subsistence and can invest their energy and resources on education and security projects that will make Somalia stronger and more stable as it progresses as a nation.

Where Will It Be Seen Next?

The success of this project for development in Somalia is giving hope for other nations dealing with similar environmental and security-related emergencies.

  • South Sudan:
    The world’s youngest nation has over 1 million people at risk of famine. Luckily, the massive humanitarian response has kept the situation from getting worse.
  • Nigeria (Northeast region):
    Due to the Boko Haram insurgency, more than 5 million people need housing and food assistance.
  • Yemen:
    A brutal civil war has left more than 75 percent of the population in need of humanitarian aid.

These three nations face similar problems to Somalia in that they endure a vicious cycle of drought and insecurity. The UNDP and other organizations are hoping to implement strategies similar to what is occurring in Somalia with the goal that “A New Way of Working” will allow these countries to flourish on their own.

– David Jaques

Photo: Flickr