Information and news about Disaster Relief

Relief in Bangladesh
In the wake of Cyclone Mora’s rampage, the world has risen to provide relief in Bangladesh for the estimated 2.8 million victims.

On May 29, Mora swept the coast of Bangladesh between Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar. Immediately after the storm hit, on-the-ground aid arrived to assist the nation. Later, the IOM (the UN Migration Agency) appealed for $3.7 million to help the hundreds of thousands of people, including Rohingya refugees, that the storm had displaced.

The refugee settlements were makeshift and not built to withstand the 117 km/h cyclone winds. The IOM’s appeal aims to help up to 80,000 people in such communities.

Mora damaged an estimated 80% of refugee settlements and completely demolished another 25% in Bangladesh. IOM plans to use UN funding throughout the remainder of the year to provide relief in Bangladesh. They improve water access, sanitation, and other protections in the aftermath of the disaster.

Although local hospitals treated 20 refugees, there were no major human casualties in the camps. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)attributes this fact to the urgent coordinating and preparation that took place before Mora hit.

UNHCR was on the ground working with Bangladesh authorities before and as soon as the storm found land. Agents in schools and other community buildings prepared to take in any individuals who needed shelter.

The storm has also brought international attention to the growing refugee crisis Bangladesh has been facing for almost a year.

An estimated 74,000 Rohingya refugees are living in mud huts and unsubstantial housing along the coast. They have fled Myanmar following a harsh change in military regulation in October of last year.

The storm’s damage to the refugee camps highlights the immense need for a permanent solution to the crisis. However, with the increase in publicity and continual aid, Bangladesh will hopefully continue to rebuild.

Emily Trosclair

Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Countries with the Most Disasters
According to a 2017 report from the World Bank, the link between poverty and natural disasters is simple: “natural disasters increase global poverty,” sending 26 million people into poverty each year and generating annual losses of $520 billion. Countries with the most disasters are spread around the globe, and the extent of the impact of natural disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes depends on where they strike.

The World Bank notes that a flood or earthquake can be disastrous for those in poverty while having a negligible impact on a country’s aggregate wealth or production. Impact on aggregate wealth has traditionally been the measurement for natural disaster severity. Measuring the severity of natural disaster based solely upon economic loss often means the poor are overlooked.

The top five countries with the most disasters are China, the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia and India. The list of countries with the most disasters is different than that of countries with the most deaths caused by natural disaster. Of the top 10 countries with the highest disaster mortality in 2014–China, India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Peru, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Japan and Indonesia–seven have low-income or lower-middle-income economies. There seems to be a correlation here, as  46.1 percent of disaster-related deaths in 2014 occurred in these seven countries.

The global average for socioeconomic resilience, defined as a country’s ability to bounce back from events such as natural disasters, is 62 percent. Low to middle-income economies generally have lower socioeconomic resilience rates than high-income economies. This means that after a natural disaster they struggle more than high-income economies to recuperate. For example, Guatemala, a lower-middle income economy, has a socioeconomic resiliency of 25 percent, while Denmark, a high-income economy, sits at 81 percent.

Measurement of natural disaster impact is changing to account more for those living in poverty. In a 2017 report, the World Bank addresses this issue by providing new strategies for determining natural disaster impact. These account for disaster impact in terms of loss of well-being rather than loss of financial assets alone.

Implementation of disaster management procedures in low- to middle-income countries can help protect against economic loss and reduce the likelihood of people falling into poverty. The World Bank estimates that policies targeting disaster response can save governments $100 billion dollars per year. Unlike in the past, the World Bank adds that “disaster risk management can be considered a poverty reduction policy,” providing a window into the future where resources are available to lessen the impact of these unavoidable phenomena in countries with the most disasters.

Cleo Krejci

Photo: Flickr

El Nino And The Hunger In Papua New Guinea
Since the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon in mid-2015, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been struggling through frost, drought and widespread food and water shortages. The ENSO — a period of unpredictable fluctuations in temperatures and currents of the wind and sea — disrupted food production and ruined the livelihoods of the many who live there. Food prices had already sharply increased by the end of 2015. The limited availability of food supplies in the markets makes for an even higher risk of starvation and suffering, in addition to the regular problem of hunger in Papua New Guinea.

As one of the poorest countries in Asia, PNG has 37 percent of its population living below the poverty line. Diseases like malaria are taking an increased toll. People are already weakened by the hunger in PNG, making it difficult to fight off sickness. The weather phenomenon also devastated the crops last year due to frost and drought, leaving farmers with nothing to eat.

According to the World Food Programme, as many as 700,000 people in PNG are in need of food assistance. Hunger in Papua New Guinea has also been overlooked, as the government has not issued any requests for assistance or declarations of emergency, even though staples like sweet potatoes were destroyed by low rainfall throughout 2015. Frosts from July through October continued to damage crops the following year. In October, there were several local villagers who said they walked through red dust– something that is unseen in the area.

Although the government began investigating reports of deaths, especially due to hunger, many badly affected communities have yet to receive aid. The slow response is due to the fact that PNG has a rugged terrain. Many villages and communities are only accessible by a multi-day trek from the next town over, or by aircraft that is flown by a pilot trained to land on small strips in the middle of the jungle.

Several World Food Programme groups have been offering food aid since the ENSO hit in 2015. With the world working together as a whole, charity organizations have raised enough money and helped grow enough food to feed more than one million people in PNG. At this rate, PNG is expected to be out of its ENSO drought by 2020 and back to standard living rates, although those are well under the national poverty lines as well.

PNG’s villagers are starting to witness more green fields, running children, happy families and liveliness being restored into the country. They will soon be back to where they were, fighting the usual hunger in Papua New Guinea, and pushing for better lifestyles.

Rilee Pickle

Photo: Flickr

Helping Vulnerable Communities Survive Disasters
Sparked by humanitarian organizations like the American Red Cross, backed by companies like JP Morgan Chase & Co., and enhanced with data sharing from Facebook, vulnerable communities now have a better chance at surviving disasters thanks to a program called Missing Maps.

A disaster can devastate any community, but historically, the damage is considerably more widespread in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. For example, on October 4, 2016, when Hurricane Matthew made landfall on the southern peninsula of Haiti, over 3,200 homes were destroyed and more than 15,000 people were displaced. In Haiti alone, over 1,000 people died because of this storm.

Many times, if a disaster occurs in a vulnerable, unmapped location, first responders lack the information necessary to make valuable decisions regarding life-saving relief efforts. Missing Maps is a collaborative project that literally puts these vulnerable communities on the map. This way, humanitarian organizations can better meet the needs of the communities and people they are trying to help.

Digital volunteers working with Missing Maps have helped map the homes of 8 million people worldwide. Data from the program has already begun to enhance disaster response efforts — examples include Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines in 2013, and the Nepal earthquake, in 2015.

JP Morgan Chase and its employees are supporting Missing Maps by participating in “mapathons,” where volunteers create digital maps for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. Kathy W., a Business Operations Executive at JP Morgan Chase, commented on the effectiveness of the program, stating, “The work we’re doing really helps to build more resilient communities and helps save lives.” Chase employees have held 22 official “mapathon” sessions and have helped put vulnerable communities in South Africa, Vietnam, Colombia and Peru on the map.

Recently, Facebook joined the efforts and began sharing its population density data with Missing Maps in hopes of putting 200 million more people on the map. This will help the Red Cross and other organizations on the forefront of this project to reach their mapping goals.

Earlier this year, Facebook began applying techniques from computer vision satellite imagery to generate high-resolution population maps that indicate how and where people are aggregated in communities throughout the world. Originally intended to aid in developing geographically specific communications technologies, Facebook decided to publicly share this data in hopes of helping first responders and humanitarian organizations increase efficiency with disaster planning and disaster response.

As part of its work with Missing Maps, the American Red Cross has already implemented data from Facebook, mapping more than two million people in Malawi alone. The humanitarian organization plans to continue to use this data to map vulnerable communities in other disaster-prone areas, like Haiti.

Ashley Henyan

Photo: Flickr

Connecting Sichuan
In May 2008, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck the Sichuan province in China. With over two minutes of shaking, the earthquake ended 87,150 lives and left an estimated five million people homeless.

The disaster could have turned the province into a poverty-stricken area, but it did not.

Immediately after the earthquake, international organizations such as the World Bank and many multinational corporations aided the Chinese government in restoring essential infrastructure, health and education services to pre-earthquake levels.

One of the major projects was Connecting Sichuan, a three-year, public-private partnership between the Sichuan Provincial People’s Government and multinational tech conglomerate Cisco.

As the project’s key stakeholder, Cisco contributed $45 million to the recovery, with a focus on providing universal healthcare in earthquake-damaged areas, demonstrating how a disaster might be turned into an opportunity for transformation and progress.

Even before the disaster, which devastated medical facilities, healthcare delivery was a problem in Sichuan. Sichuan’s per capita healthcare resources were below China’s national average.

In order to increase healthcare access to the rural population in earthquake-damaged areas, Connecting Sichuan established mobile health centers in Sichuan Province. Mobile health vehicles connect patients with medical experts located outside the immediate community. The mobile health centers employ advanced technology to improve patient care and build healthcare capacity.

Connecting Sichuan also built regional health networks to connect healthcare institutions in urban and rural areas and provide reliable connections to external organizations, such as the Provincial Department of Health and general hospitals in major cities. This shared resource model delivered improved services at much lower costs.

Starting in 2008, Connecting Sichuan successfully supported remote diagnoses between West China Hospital in the provincial capital of Chengdu and temporary field hospitals in Qingchuan and Dujiangyan, helping approximately 30 million people access reliable, affordable medical treatment.

Most importantly, the mobile health center in Sichuan lowered gaps in treatment quality between medical facilities based on geography and income. The project fostered local ownership, helping rural areas prosper.

A focus on healthcare solutions after the earthquake effectively drove workforce development and fueled job creation while attracting investment. The development of the mobile health center in Sichuan is compatible with the “Healthy China 2020” blueprint, which aims to deliver universal health care to all populations.

“Corporate social responsibility isn’t just about writing checks; it’s about looking at opportunities to develop solutions that address social needs in a responsible and transparent manner,” said Tae Yoo, Cisco Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs.

By helping disaster-wrought areas, Cisco gains much more than tangible economic benefits. All U.S. corporations should aspire to match the invaluable human impact Cisco had on Sichuan Province.

Yvie Yao

Photo: Flickr

Top 3 USA Disaster Relief Efforts
When disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance exercises their essential role in providing relief to those in need. Each year the OFDA responds to around 65 disasters in over 50 countries gaining funding and partnership from USAID and other government agencies. This important role that the United States plays in other countries has saved countless lives and aided in disaster relief for a plethora of countries and cultures across the globe. Three of the top efforts made by the OFDA in 2015 include the flooding in Burma Myanmar, a powerful earthquake in Nepal, and the outbreak of the Ebola Virus in West Africa.

Flooding in Myanmar (Burma)

Large amounts of flooding in Myanmar have forced around 500,000 people to flee their homes in search of safety. USAID was able to successfully supply $50 million in humanitarian funding for those affected. The USAID Office of Food for Peace is providing $8.4 million in emergency food assistance to combat the added struggle of malnutrition many are now facing. The OFDA’s $7.3 million funds health care, protection, shelter, water sanitation and basic hygiene needs. This money helps those still struggling in Myanmar as well as those who have fled the country and are forced to build new lives from the ground up.

Earthquake in Nepal

When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Nepal in an area just north of Kathmandu, USAID sprung into action in a big way. Around 6 million people were affected, not only in Nepal but also reaching into China, India and Bangladesh. With more than 9,000 killed and another 25,000 injured, the U.S. supplied $130 million to help the survivors. Within hours of the earthquake hitting, a Disaster Assistance Response Team deployed to organize the disaster relief effort. The USAID hospital preparedness project worked with 11 major hospitals, the largest of which was successful in treating 700 patients and executing 300 surgeries within the first 24 hours after the quake.

Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

As of Oct. 9, 2015, there were 28,429 confirmed cases of Ebola with another 11,297 in estimated deaths from the disease. In order to contain the spread of the disease and help those afflicted with it, the U.S. was able to provide $2,320,249,091 to West Africa. The progress has been outstanding with the WHO reporting no new cases of the disease from Sept. 28 to Oct. 4. This marks the first time since March 2014 that a week has passed with no reported cases of Ebola. The achievement of this success came from the massive amount of aid that funded food security, health services, technology, economic crisis mitigation, global health security agenda and other functions of disaster relief.

Aaron Walsh

Photo: Flickr

What are Climate Refugees and How Can They be Protected?
At the end of 2015, there were 65.3 million refugees worldwide. The global community is struggling to provide resources for the world’s displaced peoples, and the situation has caused both economic and security issues. Many people are ignorant to the fact that there is another group of people who are extremely vulnerable to losing their homes.

Climate refugees, or environmental migrants, are forced to leave their homes because of climatically induced environmental changes or disasters. Specifically, people may be displaced because of drought, a rise in sea level, ecological changes, desertification or extreme weather patterns. Protecting climate change refugees grows increasingly relevant as the number of displaced peoples across the globe continues to skyrocket.

Since 2008, an average of 27 million people have been classified annually as climate refugees and in 2009, the Environmental Justice Foundation declared that nearly 10 percent of the world’s population were at risk in terms of losing their homes to climate change related issues.

As climate change continues to spread and develop, more and more people fall victim to environmental migration. The existence of environmental migrants proves that climate change is not solely about the environment and that its effects reach into many aspects of society, including politics, health and economics. Protecting climate refugees is important, as sources have suggested there could be as many as 50 to 200 million by the year 2050, most of these people being subsistence farmers and fishermen.

Just this year, the U.S. resettled its first climate refugees. The population is from the Isle de Jean Charles in southeastern Louisiana and they had to leave their homes due to severe flooding. In order to resettle its residents, the U.S. government has put forth a $48 million grant and has realized the harsh reality of this problem.

According to the International Organization for Migration, “Climate refugees often fall through the cracks of asylum law.” Currently, it is very difficult for an environmental migrant to achieve refugee status. The term “climate refugee” is not officially recognized by international law and according to the International Bar Association, “there are no frameworks, no conventions, no protocols and no specific guidelines that can provide protection and assistance for people crossing international borders because of climate change.”

The World Bank estimates that with a 1-meter rise in sea level, Bangladesh would lose close to 20 percent of its land mass. Currently, almost 200,000 Bangladeshi’s lose their homes annually due to river erosion and rising sea levels. The islands of Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu are already facing significant migration patterns due to the rising sea.

The lack of international protocol regarding climate refugees, such as the ones from Bangladesh and the small islands in the Central Pacific, means that there is also a lack of resources and pathways that can lead these people to a successful resettlement. Because of this, migration experts have been stressing for several years that at risk countries should first look into improving living conditions for vulnerable populations.

This includes helping them secure a consistent access to food and water, rebuilding infrastructure and establishing efficient emergency warning systems. As countries become more aware of their ecological situations, there is more pressure to provide resources for potential climate refugees.

In order to protect climate refugees, there needs to be a change in the international law that defines a “refugee.” The number of people affected in a negative way climatically grows by the day.

Besides advocating for universal policies regarding climate refugees, there are things that can be done to slow climate change and its negative effects. Supporting clean energy and anti-carbon emission related legislation can make a difference in improving the lives of communities who are vulnerable to environmental migration.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Sri LankaRecently, many acres of Sri Lanka have been deluged by torrential rains from a slow-moving tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal. 22 of the nation’s 26 districts have suffered heavily from flash flooding and landslides. Officials say this is the worst flood to hit Sri Lanka in over a quarter of a century, and with the monsoon season set to arrive within the next few weeks, there will be no chance of a reprieve. International aid in Sri Lanka is sorely needed to help house and feed displaced persons.

According to Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Center, 82 people have been killed and over 500,000 have been displaced by the flooding and landslides. The death toll could rise even higher as 118 people are still missing, according to the Press Trust of India.

Displaced persons are being housed in 594 temporary camps across Sri Lanka, according to a press release by Sri Lanka’s Red Cross.

The UN’s Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka has met with President Sirisena. Together, they discussed the emergency provisions needed to provide life-saving aid in Sri Lanka.

The UN released a statement, saying: “We met the president this morning for a briefing on emergency response and coordination. We remain committed to assist all the affected people.”

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has deployed 10 medical teams with supplies in the areas of Kolonnawan, and Kaduwels MOH divisions and the Columbo Municipal council area have been given medical supplies, according to the World Health Organization.

However, it seems the Red Cross has taken the lead in the effort to provide aid in Sri Lanka. As soon as the landslide occurred, the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society’s Kegalle Branch deployed its Disaster Response Team to Aranayake.

Shortly after their arrival, Red Cross officials coordinated with government authorities in search and rescue efforts, as well as in creating temporary camps where they have provided food, first aid and psychological support to survivors.

In Gampaha, one of the worst affected districts in Sri Lanka, Red Cross volunteers provided evacuation via boats and first aid support to people stranded in Biyagama.

The predominant presence of the Red Cross is notable since they have been previously denied access to victims of displacement in the region. In 2009, the Sri Lankan government denied the Red Cross and many other NGOs access to civilians in refugee camps following the Tamil Tiger rebels’ final battle.

Veronica Ung-Kono

Photo: Flickr

Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands are two strings of atolls located in the North Pacific between Australia and the Hawaiian Islands. Their main exports are marine goods, coconut products, and handicrafts. Marshallese climate can be unpredictable, with climate change directly impacting the islands. In addition, securing sufficient sources for fresh water is a constant struggle. Because of these issues, many inhabitants of the islands live in poor circumstances, with bad health and little access to energy sources.

Since their year of independence in 1986, the Marshall Islands Government has been engaged in an uphill battle of physical, economic and environmental survival. Fortunately, there are a number of international lifeguards who are helping to keep the Marshallese government afloat.

The United States (U.S.)
One problem the Marshall Islands Government does not have to worry about is military security. Though it is a sovereign state, its military protection is provided by the U.S. But security is not the only service that the United States provides to the islands. The U.S. affords educational, medical and infrastructural aid, and donates funds in an effort to help the islands eventually attain economic self-sufficiency.

Roughly 50 percent of the revenue that the government obtains is gathered from foreign aid, and a large portion of this comes from U.S. coffers due to an agreement entitled the “Compact of Free Associations” which exists between the two nations.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Though it is an entity within the structure of the United States government, FEMA merits particular mention. Operating under the supervision of the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA’s standard focus is the prevention, response and recovery from disasters that occur within U.S. borders. However, due to the Compact of Free Associations, the agency is also obliged to assist the Marshall Islands when disasters arise.

Just this year, the Marshall Islands have been experiencing one of the worst droughts in their nation’s history, collecting only a quarter of the rainfall that they typically obtain. On April 1st, Marshallese President Hilda Heine declared a state of emergency, and on April 28th FEMA announced that it has allotted federal disaster assistance to the Marshall Islands Government. Millions have been spent in past years on similar disasters.

The Marshall Island’s southern neighbor, Australia, is dedicated to supporting the islands in the economic and climatic issues. Between the Marshall Islands and two other North Pacific states, the Australian Government has pledged almost $10 million within the next fiscal year.

Australia’s goal is to increase access to water, sanitary facilities, and education. Additionally, Australia is helping to introduce a new public school system and spreading gender equality awareness throughout the islands. Many of these objectives have been reached through the sponsored delivery of water containers and the establishment of better education and scholarships to continue on to higher schooling.

The United Nations (U.N.)
The Marshall Islands and other low-lying countries are particularly susceptible an increase in global temperature.  It is projected that low-lying countries like the Marshal Islands will be submerged, or at least uninhabitable, if the global temperature rises just 2 degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels.

In response to this dilemma, the U.N. has held multiple conferences over the last months in an effort to promote awareness and compliance to goals regarding carbon emissions. Just last month 175 countries were gathered in Paris to sign an agreement on the reduction of fossil fuel usage. The U.N. noted that this conference marked the largest number of countries to sign an international agreement at one time in the history of the world.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)
A less recognized, but equally engaged organization is the Japan International Cooperation Agency. JICA focuses on what they call “inclusive development,” which emphasizes individual initiative in evaluating one’s own situation to improve it. JICA simply provides the resources necessary to carry out these improvements.

For the Marshall Islands, JICA is carrying out programs to improve waste control and worldwide education programs. JICA has been training volunteers to travel world-wide in an effort to address these issues, and in 2015 alone almost 3,500 volunteers traveled to the pacific to assist in humanitarian aid projects.

Despite the aid that these organizations are providing to the Marshall Islands, many inhabitants of the country live without the basic necessities of life. Further efforts are needed bring these individuals out of poverty. According to the World Bank, development must begin within the Marshall Islands Government. They commented, “The growth in the economy would be strengthened and sustained by the government’s commitment to reform.” The rest of us simply need to do our part.

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

Relief_Grant_VietnamThe U.S. government will help Vietnam respond to severe drought and saltwater intrusion by providing a disaster relief grant, USAID announced on April 8. The natural disaster has impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam’s southern provinces and Central Highlands.

U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius declared the situation as a disaster on March 25, prompting the U.S. to provide assistance to Vietnam through the Vietnam Red Cross. Assistance efforts will continue with the announcement of this relief grant.

Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is the country’s largest rice, fruit and fisheries producer. However, the current drought and saltwater intrusion the delta is facing is the worst in 90 years. Since the end of 2015, this natural disaster has also impacted all provinces in the Southern Central and Central highland regions, as 39 provinces have requested support from central government. Roughly 1.75 million people have been affected.

According to a report from Vietnam’s National Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control, a large number of households are experiencing water shortage from the drought. Schools, health care stations, hotels and factories are also experiencing water shortages.

“With this assistance, VNCR will provide safe drinking water and water storage containers to those most affected and will carry out promotional activities to enhance the awareness of sanitation and hygiene,” Consul General Rena Bitter said, according to a USAID article.

USAID-supported disaster relief efforts directly support and are closely coordinated with the Government of Vietnam’s relief efforts. USAID has also provided the country approximately $12 million in disaster relief response, preparedness and risk reduction assistance since 2002.

Kerri Whelan

Photo: Flickr