Information and news about Disaster Relief

2004 Thailand Tsunami
December 26, 2004. Billions of people were waking up, making coffee, or in other parts of the globe preparing for a good night’s sleep. On the coast of Thailand, billions of tons of water crashed onto the shores. An extremely powerful earthquake, classified as a ‘megathrust’, caused an enormous Tsunami. Major damage was suffered up and down the coastline, including the eco-resort of KhaoLak.  A classic warning sign of an impending tsunami is a trough, when the ocean is pulled back from the shore before the waves come down. Sunbathers and swimmers alike did not have time to register this warning as they were distracted by the thousands of fish left on the sand. Nearly six thousand people were killed, and many of them were vacationing tourists. Hundreds more were injured or displaced from their destroyed homes. The main city with excellent hospitals, Phuket, became the main area of medical care during the aftermath and was covered intensively by media and news crews.

Under a ‘memorandum of understanding’, the U.S. donated with other nations Part One of the DartII buoy system to Thailand. The system uses ‘tsunameters’ and seismic information to predict potential tsunamis. The goal is to give everyone on the Indian Ocean from Thailand to Sri Lanka a sixty minute warning before another tsunami strikes. The systems have been implemented gradually since 2005, and are known collectively as the Indian Ocean Project. Thailand today is almost reminiscent of what it was before the tsunami ever struck. Beach days and nightlife are in full swing, hotel rates are down, shopping is up, and Thailand is welcoming visitors and tourists for the New Year. Economically, tourists visiting will help boost the market and get Thailand back to a stable place from which they will continue to grow.

The Impossible  is a feature length film that was released in 2012, eight years after the tsunami struck Thailand. It is based on the true story of Maria and Henry Bennet as well as their three sons, Thomas, Lucas, and Simon. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents of the three boys that were staying at a resort on vacation when the Tsunami struck.  Maria and Lucas were separated and stranded on the coastline, both severely injured. Henry, Simon, and Lucas had survived and ended up searching the resort for the rest of their family before traveling to Phuket to search the hospitals. Maria and Lucas ended up being aided by locals and also taken to the hospital in Phuket. The movie follows their harrowing and desperately hopeful story of surviving the tsunami and finding their way back together which, in the end, they do. The real family has returned to the beach every Christmas Day since, as a reminder to themselves and their children not to live in fear but to conquer the impossible.

Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: Phuket Thailand, Jakarta Post, IMDB

Povert in the Philippines
In early November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan barreled through South Asia, particularly devastating the Philippines. In the aftermath of the tropical cyclone, over 6,000 civilian lives were lost, nearly 2,000 more civilians remained missing and four million residents found themselves completely and utterly displaced in a country that they once knew as home.

Unfortunately, this vast amount of displaced people exceeds the maximum number that current aid organizations have the resources and capability to provide for. The devastation resulting from Typhoon Haiyan places additional strains on the Philippines, a nation that had a relentless pre-existing poverty crisis.

Prior to Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines was already struggling with a high poverty rate in which approximately half of the nation’s 88 million residents live in impoverished rural areas. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD,) 80 percent of the nation’s poor live in these rural locales.

However, after the typhoon, survivors now resort to make-shift abodes in the form of fright boxes and raggedy tents. A significant amount of refuge shelters sponsored by the government fail to meet international guidelines, leaving survivors to seek shelter by hastily assembling make-shift homes. According to the Washington Post, a paltry nine percent of survivors have received adequate material to rebuild the remains of their homes.

Although the adult literacy rate in the Philippines is approximately 95 percent, a handful of survivors are illiterate. To address this issue, while survivors wait for more building materials, construction workers tour sites and provide architectural advice on safe construction methods.

The inadequacy of the Filipino government’s emergency response in the wake of the typhoon reflects the deeper issues of poverty in the Philippines. In a country where more than half of the population struggles with the perils of poverty, the government is already gripped with internal plight, hindering its ability to adequately respond to natural disasters.

Even over a month after Typhoon Haiyan, aid organizations still struggle to provide proper shelter to millions of survivors. With such conditions, the process of providing adequate international relief in a timely manner may require fine-tuning.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Wunderground, Washington Post, UNICEF

On November 10, a deadly cyclone raged through the region of Puntland, located in Somalia’s northeastern coast. Though the cyclone has reportedly killed up to 300 people, the death toll has not yet been verified. Many of these victims were children and elderly, both of which are more vulnerable to hypothermia and exposure. Moreover, the United Nations says as many as 30,000 people are in need of food aid.

Whole villages have been washed away by the storm, thus forcing local aid workers to struggle to reach the stranded victims due to the damaged infrastructure. Furthermore, large portions of roads have been damaged, driving aid workers to deliver food aid on foot. Many people are also missing, especially in coastal towns where fisherman and their boats have been lost at sea.

Pastoralists have been hit the hardest since their livestock and poorly built homes and barns have been washed away. The region does not normally experience rain so the area’s infrastructure has not been built to withstand this sort of storm. In fact, some of the worst hit villages have lost 90 percent of their livestock to icy rain and flooding.

Moreover, areas infamous for pirates such as the port of Ely are some of the worst affected. This is worrisome as the 2004 Tsunami was considered one of the major triggers of the pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia where 736 people and 32 ships were held hostage.

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently arrived in Puntland and transported 340 metric tons of food including cereal and vegetable seeds to the worst affected areas of Bossaso, Banderbayla, Dongoroyo and Eyl. In total 27, 000 people have been given a month’s worth of food rations. In addition Puntland’s government sent 32 trucks of emergency supplies throughout the needed areas.

Once emergency aid has been distributed and the region is no longer in a state of disaster the WFP will begin recovery work to rebuild the infrastructure of the area. The Food-for-Assets initiative is a recovery program run by the WFP that assists communities in rebuilding their infrastructure in a way that would better withstand a future natural disaster. Moreover, community workers are paid in food rations for assisting with the development.

Further south in Middle Shabelle, flooding has devastated the town of Jowhar and surrounding areas, pushing over 10,000 people to flee their homes. Their water supplies have, furthermore, been contaminated increasing the risk of waterborne diseases, while all standing crops and livestock in the area have been destroyed or lost. The International Committee of the Red Cross has provided 25,800 people with emergency essentials such as kitchen sets, clothes and sleeping mats.  They have also been able to stop flooding and repair riverbanks in five locations and distributed emergency food aid and water.

Lisa Toole

Sources: AllAfrica: Food Aid, AllAfrica: Twin Natural Disasters, Yahoo, World Food Programme, Aljazeera

Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol donated $24,000 for victims of Typhoon Haiyan after scoring 24 points during the match against the Golden State Warriors November 22.

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in early November, killing more than 5,000 people and displacing millions of Filipinos, particularly in the central Leyte province of the Visayan Islands.

For his part, Gasol pledged to donate $1,000 for every point he scored. With a Laker victory of 102-96, Gasol’s contributions will go towards the U.S. Fund for UNICEF relief efforts.

The Friday night match at the L.A. Lakers’ home turf, the Staples Center, did not include Warrior and Lakers stars Stephen Curry and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers proved more than capable with Gasol scoring 16 points during the first half of the match.

Gasol promoted the cause via his Twitter account, which has 2.3 million followers as well as on the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Additionally, Gasol encouraged others to pledge any amount from $1 to $20 to match his donations and scores during the game. To this date, according to the U.S. for UNICEF website, $13,476 were donated.

As reported by ESPN, Gasol commented, “That’s what I was hoping to accomplish, to get people to also pledge and contribute and donate along with me so that we could have a bigger impact.”

In the past, Gasol made a similar pledge for the 2011 Haiti relief fund and for the victims of the Japanese 2011 earthquake and Pacific tsunami. Gasol donated $20,000 to the former and $26,000 to the latter.

Gasol joins the industry in providing aid as the L.A. Lakers previously donated $150,000 towards Haiyan relief efforts through the Philippine Red Cross. Moreover, the NBA and the NBA Players Association donated $250,000 to the same UNICEF fund.

Miles Abadilla 

Sources: CrowdRise, NBC, ESPN, Huffington Post, LA Lakers, CBS
Photo: Philstar

As relief efforts to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Typhoon Yolanda, continue, Philippine legislators are currently being tried for corruption charges regarding misuse of public funds.

Dubbed the “pork barrel scandal,” lawmakers amassed funds aimed to impress local constituents into stimulus programs. Primary among these were the Priority Development Assistant Fund (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), programs discovered to be non-existent NGOs publicized to alleviate poverty and invest in public infrastructure.

In reality, the pork barrel funds ended up in the coffers of five senators and 23 congresspersons. Notable among these is the alleged ringleader Janet Lim-Napoles, owner of the JLN Group of Companies. Napoles is reported to have used the funds to purchase real estate in Los Angeles.

In light of the pork barrel scandal, doubts are cast in relation to President Benigno Aquino III’s image as an enemy of corruption and it hinders efforts for further economic reform. Aquino ran on a ticket to fight corruption in 2010 – evoking his mother, Corazon Aquino’s successes against the corrupt-ridden regime of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s.

Aquino himself is being accused of bribing legislators’ loyalty. Around $500 million of discretionary funds for projects were dropped, an amount meant for Haiyan reconstruction.

Transparency regarding the use of governmental funds, particularly disaster relief efforts, is not a new problem. In 2009, local officials were accused of having stolen $20.7 million intended for restoring storm-ravaged northern Luzon through nongovernmental institutions.

Additionally, as stated in a report by the World Bank, addressing the links between poverty and vulnerability by the government, through proper measures and projects, could have prevented further disaster.

And yet, Malacañang emphasizes good governance and faith in relief structures. The Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH) was established by the Department of Finance and Department of Foreign Affairs in order to better monitor and track disaster aid. The FAiTH webpage ( consists of a list of donor countries and organizations. The site elaborates upon the amount given and the respective organizations to which they are given. FAiTH is comprised of seven different departments within the federal government.

As the country with the largest Catholic inhabitants in Asia, faith gives hope amidst the death toll of over 5,000 with many more displaced. Faith in the idea of good government, however, is, literally, standing trial.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: The Republic of the Philippines, The Independent, Huffingtion Post, Reuters, NBC

As it happens, One Direction is not just another single-minded boy band dolling out love songs and capturing the hearts of teenage girls around the world. In fact, unlike most boy bands one may think of, One Direction is putting their worldwide status to good use by regularly participating in fundraising for a slew of causes. Indeed, their multiple efforts just last month is a cause for praise.

In early November, Liam Payne and Harry Styles joined the Y Combinator startup company, Prizeo, in a fundraising campaign that raised $784,345 to benefit cancer research.  Prizeo “relies on a raffle model where contributors get a single entry for every dollar donated, the grand prize being an in-person experience with the sponsoring celebrity.”  The One Direction grand prize was an evening out in London with Payne and Styles, while smaller perks included custom t-shirts, social media profile pictures, bracelets, photos and a One Direction sweatshirt signed by the group members.

The band also joined a Celebrity Telethon in support of Typhoon Haiyan survivors, where they officially launched the telethon via their Twitter account.  The event took place in London at the iconic BT Tower, where callers were able to talk to a famous voice and have their donations taken by one of numerous celebrity participants.  One Direction’s Liam Payne expressed his sympathy for the survivors, stating, “The pictures I have seen of little children in-between the ruins made my heart break.  All of us in the band are shocked by how many people need help, so we’re asking the public to continue to be as generous as they possibly can.”  The UK Disasters Emergency Committee raised £90,000 directly from the telethon, which helped raise their total Philippines Typhoon Appeal donations to over £44 million.

One Direction further hosted a portion of the BBC’s Children in Need charity event, where they performed their hit song “Best Song Ever” and also designed and personalized a special Pudsey Bear, which was auctioned off to raise money for the charity.  This year’s event raised over £31,124,896.

Just last week, group member Harry Styles garnered support for UNICEF by auctioning his unwashed shirt on the designer discount website  A Texas businessman made the highest bid, offering £3,002 for the shirt.

– Rifk Ebeid

Sources: Mirror, Forbes, Look to the Stars, Disasters Emergency Committee: Celebrity Telethon, Press Party, Disasters Emergency Committee: Stars Join Telethon, Twitter

Disasters not only pose a humanitarian disruption, but also a developmental challenge. Among the destruction, displacement and chaos, it can often be difficult for development and relief agencies to efficiently disburse aid. Typhoons like Haiyan are especially difficult, as the scope of the damage done is still unknown.

A report by the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition named the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as one of the worst disasters in terms of international response. Relief agencies showed the greatest weakness in understanding cultural complexities, catering to the local context and working with local communities and organizations, states the development agency called Devex.

Luckily, Haiyan respondents have the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. Roger Yates of Plan International presents his list of 10 tips for NGOs engaging in disaster response, many of which focus on a piqued awareness of local context. His recommendations, as reported in Devex, are as follows:

1.  Focus on priorities.

There is too much to do at once, so it is crucial to start with the most pertinent tasks and work from there. Flexibility is also important, as priorities may change as the situation develops and circumstances change.

2. Understand the role of the military and government.

It is important for NGOs to understand how the military will contribute to relief efforts, such as transportation and security oversight. NGOs should provide complementary assistance, but not override governmental directives.

3. Work with local elected officials and other community leaders.

Locals will have a valued knowledge of the disaster location. NGOs should work closely with grassroots organizations and community leaders to tailor their relief efforts.

4. Keep the public in affected communities informed.

NGOs should disburse messages concerning when and where to receive aid, public health information and notices concerning missing persons. TV, radio and notice boards are all good resources.

5. Work collaboratively, not independently.

NGOs are only one part of an international effort and must behave in this manor. Other actors will bring a diverse set of skills that can be utilized in conjunction with NGOs.

6. Go the extra mile;find the most vulnerable and worst affected people.

Disadvantaged groups, such as women and young girls, will need a special set of needs which may require more effort on behalf of relief agencies.

7. Don’t underestimate the importance of mental health.

Disasters create mass amounts of trauma. NGOs must work with individuals to reduce stressors and provide mutual support.

8. Support local markets and move to cash transfers as soon as possible.

NGOs should work to support local markets and reinstate stability. Purchasing local goods and giving money directly through cash transfers will help to restart the economy.

9. Build up two-way communication with the local public.

NGOs must be transparent about their efforts and utilize media outlets to communicate with both the local population and other agencies. Also, NGOs should welcome feedback from the local community.

10. Building permanent houses is difficult.

It may take many years before it is possible to construct quality permanent houses, but it is better to keep temporary housing than to hastily rush into building permanent structures. NGOs must be patient and accurately assess the situation before moving forward.

Plan International operates in more than 50 countries worldwide to promote children’s rights and alleviate poverty.  The organization has already raised more than $13 million to Haiyan relief and has several programs at work on the ground in the Philippines.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: Plan International, Devex
Photo: Coloribus

Much of the world has been shattered and shocked by the news of Paul Walker’s untimely death-a Hollywood star whose light was snuffed out far too soon.

Earning his star power through highly successful movies such as the Fast and the Furious franchise, Paul Walker lead Hollywood as an effective leading man with his charismatic personality and smoldering good looks.

Yet beyond the screen persona and steely blue eyes was a beloved philanthropist who devoted himself to extensive charity work that outreached numerous people in need.

At the time of his death, Walker was in attendance at his own charity event- the Reach Out Worldwide charity car show in Valencia, California. He hosted the event in hopes of collecting donations to assist those affected by Typhoon Haiyan and the Illinois tornadoes.

Before setting out on the car ride that would result in his tragic death, Walker had been overjoyed to find that the gathering had accumulated a great turnout in both attendees and donations.

An attendee of the event and a longtime friend of Walker’s, Bill Townsend spoke to People magazine about Walker’s very kind and approachable demeanor at the event, stating: “Paul was standing around like he was just one of the guys. He’s one of the most grounded people you could ever imagine.”

As an individual who highly succeeded in staying grounded, Walker had many charities and causes that remained linked to his root of devotion.

Reach Out Worldwide (ROWW) reigned as an active source of his philanthropic endeavors, as a nonprofit organization he founded himself after observing the lack of resources for immediate relief response for the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

According to the charity’s web site, ROWW Is a “network of committed professionals with first responder skill-set,” that has “developed Standard Operating Procedures that facilitate arriving quickly, clearing access, providing basic necessities and medical assistance.”

Walker championed the nonprofit with much devotion and enthusiasm, often working “under the radar” when traveling on behalf of his organization and actively lending his services to areas in need.

Following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Walker assembled a team of first responders and headed to the most devastated areas to deliver supplies and medical aid.

In that same year, Walker traveled with a team to Chile, delivering water and medical aid to tsunami victims.

Yet foreign countries alone were not the extent of Walker’s charitable outreach. Following the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Walker headed to the state and helped victims get back into their homes by running a chainsaw to clear debris.

Fellow colleagues in his charity observed that Walker preferred his anonymity when pursuing charity work, and never shied away from rolling up his sleeves and risk getting a little dirty to achieve productive results.

From the year if his charity’s inception to his very last living moment of earth, charity was the forefront of Walker’s mind.

Although many are saddened by Walker’s untimely passing, his legacy and his devotion to giving shall continue to live and prosper through his surviving charity.

Universal Studios recently announced that it shall donate profits accumulated from Fast and Furious 6 DVDs towards Walker’s charity organization- giving fans the chance to celebrate and honor both his work in film and philanthropy.

– Kaitlyn Boisvert

Sources: People, Moviepilot, LA Times
Photo: Real Big Faces

It is almost impossible to watch a program on television without seeing an advertisement from one of America’s top pizza restaurants, Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc. and is known for delivering more pizza, pasta and wings than any other restaurant in the world. The Pizza Hut name has come very far since its invention in Wichita, Kansas 55 years ago.

Pizza Hut is also a top partner of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest effort to fight hunger worldwide. Pizza Hut has been involved with WFP since 2007 and has donated over $10 million in the form of over 40 million meals to fight hunger in the United States. Pizza Hut also founded the Pizza Hut Harvest Program to independently donate meals to shelters in the United States.

Pizza Hut recently declared that a designated percentage of its World Hunger Relief donations will go to the Philippines. The recent typhoon in the Philippines has left 2.5 million survivors hungry and in need of food. Scott Bergren, President and CEO of Pizza Hut, emphasized the importance of aid to the survivors when he said “the purpose and intent of our partnership with the World Food Programme is to provide relief through food to those most in need, and nowhere is that need more urgent now than in the Philippines.” Bergren also took a moment to thank the WFP for allowing Pizza Hut and Yum! Brands to help so many people.

Other major companies such as Royal Caribbean Cruises, FedEx and Google have also donated to those in the Philippines in light of the recent tragedy.

Lienna Feleke-Eshete

Sources: CNN MoneyMarket Watch
Photo: Entrepreneur

It always seems like the Caribbean nation of Haiti just can’t catch a break. Throughout its history, Haiti has suffered from extreme poverty, corrupt governments, and not to mention catastrophic natural disasters, such as the 2011 earthquake which cost more than 200,000 Haitians their lives.

As if that were not enough, more devastation struck the island nation when a cholera outbreak occurred in October 2010. It has fueled a continuing epidemic, resulting in the deaths of over 8,300 people and the serious illness of 650,000 people, or one out of every 16 Haitians.

The United Nations (UN) is being blamed for causing the outbreak due to the unsanitary conditions at the UN peacekeeping bases. UN peacekeepers were sent to Haiti after their work in Nepal, where cholera is pervasive. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease was  most likely transmitted then to Haiti for the first time in 200 years.

Despite the negativity that seems to surround Haiti at all times, there may be a glimmer of hope. Human rights lawyers have filed a lawsuit against the UN seeking to sue the organization in the form of a compensation claim. The lawyers and Haitian families demand that the UN pays billions of dollars in damages to survivors and the families of those killed by the cholera epidemic.

The claims have been set by a Boston-based activist group of lawyers consisting of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its Haitian partner firm Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) located in Florida.

The UN has responded by claiming their legal immunity from compensation claims and has therefore rejected the lawsuit and claims made by Haitians affected by the epidemic. However, according to a recent article by The Guardian, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay released a statement saying that she stands “…by the call that victims of those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon recently launched a $2.2 billion initiative to combat cholera in Haiti over the next 10 years. Additionally, on October 10, the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the MINUSTAH’s stay in the country one more year, with the peacekeepers formally leaving in October 2014 after 10 years of work in Haiti.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: MINUSTAH, UN News Centre, The Guardian: UN Sued Haiti Cholera Epidemic, The Guardian
Photo: The Wall Street Journal