Information and stories on Natural Disasters

Haiti has been consistently named the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck seven years ago and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 brought attention to this truth. With natural disasters like the two aforementioned raising media attention to philanthropic efforts, the question often remains: why is Haiti poor?

The question at hand can be addressed by looking at one of the key reasons: political instability. Haiti’s political history has been unstable and this is usually attributed to post-colonial tensions and leadership struggles. While the situation has improved in recent years, the periodic vacancies of positions within the cabinet and of the prime minister, as well as parliamentary debate can and have halted reconstruction efforts or poverty-reducing legislation. For example, the 2016 election process was delayed many times. This delay did nothing for the reported 55,000 people still living in makeshift camps after being displaced due to the rural housing damage caused by the 2010 earthquake.

The slow implementation of policies is often cited as a governmental failure, a failure that fuels crises. IRIN News notes the Haitian government’s wish to implement reforestation projects and other policies that would aid commercial farmers, but that corruption and donated resources not being properly distributed are hampering this effort. IRIN News quotes a Haitian farmer who states that “politicians have failed…Our leaders even had the audacity to take credit for efforts done by aid agencies and directed towards their friends.”

Because of this political instability and overall distrust for the political system, demonstrations are often held in Port-au-Prince. Haitians themselves are questioning: why is Haiti poor?

With new president Jovenel Moïse inaugurated in February 2017, many citizens are hopeful that he will follow through on his election promises of government reform and more democratic processes.

Gabriella Paez

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in TuvaluTuvalu is a tiny Pacific nation with a population of about 10,000 people. While the population may be small, the people of Tuvalu face significant threats, with the foremost being climate change. Tuvalu sits only two meters above sea level and some experts think the group of islands could eventually vanish if sea levels keep rising. It is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to being affected by climate change.

Here are some ideas on how to help people in Tuvalu:

  1. Encourage your representatives to support cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
    Climate change is already beginning to affect Tuvalu. While emergency response to flooding and other natural disasters is important, the most important long-term solution is for countries all over the world to make swift cuts in emissions, until the world reaches what scientists say is a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – 350 parts per million.
  2. Donate water or other necessary supplies in the event of an emergency.
    When Tuvalu has experienced flooding or other weather disasters in the past, several humanitarian organizations have responded promptly. However, climate change also exacerbates droughts. One of the biggest problems that can occur during a drought is a lack of safe, clean water. Many on the island will have to ration water. A household of six to nine people is allotted just 40 liters of water per day. This means that basic water needs are only just being met in these conditions.
  3. Express the importance of keeping the U.S. in the Paris climate accord to the White House.
    In 2015, Enele Spoaga, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, asked European leaders to help save Tuvalu ahead of the negotiations for the Paris climate accord. Spoaga warned that a climate that was even 2 degrees celsius warmer would mean that Tuvalu would eventually disappear under water. Later that year, leaders from around the world agreed to take steps to limit future global warming. However, President Trump has recently said he wants to take the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. Since the U.S. is a large, highly industrialized and influential country, the effects of it leaving the Paris climate accord would be devastating. If you would like to help protect Tuvalu from the effects of severe climate change, consider calling the White House and expressing your concern about this issue.

Tuvalu is in a uniquely frightening position, since its very existence is under threat from climate change. However, as people realize the dangers of climate change, more and more will hopefully seek to learn about how to get involved to help people struggling in Tuvalu.

Brock Hall

Photo: Flickr

Hurricane Irma ReliefThe U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has launched a major humanitarian mission in the Caribbean regions that have been devastated by Hurricane Irma. The organization’s outreach efforts are focused on the most vulnerable inhabitants of the affected areas: children.

UNICEF is a U.N. program working to protect childrens’ rights in 192 countries and territories. UNICEF employs both intensive research and practical problem-solving to provide humanitarian assistance to children in developing countries. In 2016, UNICEF provided educational materials and other support to 15.7 million children, including 11.7 million children who had been impacted by emergencies such as natural disasters and civil unrest.

The organization has a proven track record in providing relief to hurricane victims in the Caribbean. After Hurricane Matthew struck in 2016, UNICEF helped return 25,000 students to school by rebuilding 75 educational centers. Additionally, the nonprofit secured medical aid for 80,000 people and provided clean water for 400,000 people.

UNICEF estimates that more than 10.5 million children will be affected by Hurricane Irma, including more than three million children younger than five years old. The organization’s most urgent concern is getting clean drinking water to storm victims.

UNICEF is uniquely positioned to spread awareness and survival tips to adolescents living within the hurricane zone, thanks to U-Report. U-Report is a communication platform that uses SMS texting to relay information and surveys to young participants. UNICEF typically utilizes U-Report to poll adolescents about pressing issues in their communities.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, UNICEF mobilized U-Report to send out “how to stay safe” messages to young users in the storm zone. The nonprofit sent out 8,500 texts within the initial 48 hours of the hurricane. Messages were available in English, French and Spanish to accommodate the diverse population affected by the hurricane. Between 9 p.m. and midnight on September 6, a user accessed information about Irma via U-Report every 10 seconds.

UNICEF was able to launch an immediate Hurricane Irma relief effort because the organization anticipated and prepared for the devastation. “Considering the possible magnitude that Irma represents, it is both hugely urgent and necessary to be prepared, informed and vigilant so that we try to avoid the impact on the most vulnerable, that is to say children,” said Marita Perceval, UNICEF regional director in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To prepare for the hurricane, UNICEF moved emergency supplies including clean water, medicine and nonperishable food into the region. Additional emergency materials are being sent from the UNICEF Supplies Division warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark. The warehouse is the world’s largest humanitarian storage facility and can ship supplies anywhere in the world within 72 hours.

UNICEF already has first responders on the scene who are utilizing emergency supplies stored in Barbados and Panama. U-Report aids these humanitarian workers by collecting information on who needs help after Irma.

The organization is distributing tents, hygiene kits and water purification tablets to families in Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos. Child protection materials are also being provided to ensure that affected children are identified and sheltered. Trained facilitators have been sent to the region to ensure the psychological well-being of young victims.

Leaders at the nonprofit urge the international community to increase support for Hurricane Irma relief. Khin-Sandi Lwin, head of UNICEF’s Caribbean response, estimates that the organization needs another $2.3 million in funding to complete its humanitarian efforts.

UNICEF will continue providing Hurricane Irma relief in the coming weeks. More information about UNICEF’s Hurricane Irma relief efforts and ways to help can be found on their website.

Katherine Parks

Photo: Google

Philippines Responds to Natural Disasters
In response to being one of the most vulnerable countries to earthquakes and typhoons, the Philippines’ catastrophe risk insurance program was created. The Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) will provide the government and 25 participating provinces with catastrophe risk insurance.

The World Bank estimates that 20 typhoons each year cause landfall in the Philippines, bringing with them $3.5 billion in losses. As part of the government’s disaster risk finance strategy, the new insurance program strengthens the country’s financial protection and disaster risk reduction management.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), part of the World Bank Group, and the U.K. Department for International Development support the program.

The new Philippines’ catastrophe risk insurance program ensures governments fast cash in an emergency. The transactions $206 million investment protects the national government’s assets from typhoons and earthquakes, as well as that of the 25 participating provinces.

Natural disasters weaken infrastructure and inhibit economic growth and development in poorer areas. Forty percent of the population survives on less than $2 per day, and many of these people live in high-risk areas. Approximately a third of the nation’s workers are in the agricultural sector, which is vulnerable to severe weather.

The Philippines’s new insurance program is related to the Insurance Development Forum (IDF), a public-private partnership closing the protection gap between insured disaster losses and the economic costs of disasters. With support from the World Bank Group and the United Nations Development Programme, IDF improves risk management capabilities and economic resilience for vulnerable people, communities, businesses and public institutions.

According to Joaquim Levy, Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer of the World Bank Group, “this new insurance program illustrates how the World Bank Group can leverage capital from the market…to sustain essential services in times of crisis, empowering local governments to more effectively assist their citizens.”

Protecting the nation’s financials and empowering local governments, the Philippines‘ catastrophe risk insurance program advances development and poverty reduction, even in the hardest-hit places.

Sarah Dunlap

Photo: Flickr

ADRA Helps Brazil
In May 2017, a flood in northeastern Brazil left 35,000 residents homeless. As similar disasters have affected Brazilians before, the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) is a nonprofit organization working to alleviate what has been a crucially difficult past for the country. How the ADRA helps Brazil is not through focusing on the negative impacts but instead on how they can aid Brazilians in times of disaster.

In January 2011, some of the heaviest rains in history caused major flooding and landslides in Brazil’s three major cities and in 80 smaller communities as well. The ADRA provided 4,500 victims with bed materials and hygiene kits, inviting others to donate. More than 1,000 households received aid as a result. The ADRA also received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Embassy to support Brazilian families in urgent need.

In November 2015, a toxic mudslide containing arsenic, mercury and other poisons made Brazil’s water undrinkable for more than 250,000 residents. The ADRA distributed 53,000 gallons of water to 1,900 families in the city Governador Valadares, and 16,000 gallons of water were given to 570 families in the city Colatina. The ADRA also managed to help more than a quarter of a million people in Minas Gerais.

In March 2016, heavy rains flooded several Brazil cities. After the rains, the water was draining too slowly and increasing the risk of diseases. The ADRA distributed hygiene materials to counter risks of diseases. Disaster victims were also given food and material items and lived in school buildings after losing their homes.

The ADRA partners with other organizations to help Brazil’s street children and disadvantaged ethnic communities. In August 2016, the ADRA worked on a project with Stop Hunger Now to stimulate Brazil’s economy. The project involved sending 100,000 packaged meals to Rio de Janeiro.The ADRA also utilized some of the meals to support 5,000 students.

The ADRA helps Brazil in order to better the lives of the country’s people. By providing Brazil’s disaster victims with meals, hygiene kits and other resources, ADRA gives Brazilians the hope that they will never be alone in times of crisis. Through partnerships with other organizations, the ADRA may even receive further help in the future to alleviate Brazil’s problems.

Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

Camp Hope
Nepal’s Camp Hope is a privately and publicly funded safe haven for displaced families from the Sindhupalchowk district north of Kathmandu, Nepal. Camp Hope spans one square kilometer and is made up of a series of large tents. The tents, which were provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), have enough strength to withstand the annual monsoon season in Nepal. USAID assisted Nepal providing shelter and protection for 310,000 Nepalese people displaced by earthquakes.

Nepal’s Camp Hope was made possible thanks to the combined efforts of USAID and Sangeeta Shrestha. Shrestha is the camp founder and runs a world-class boutique heritage hotel called Dwarika. Shrestha had a great deal of trouble finding a location for Camp Hope because the local government would not relinquish any land to the cause. Thankfully, Shrestha says, “a local youth club came offering their football ground, so here we are.”

In order to make Nepal’s Camp Hope possible, Shrestha has enlisted numerous volunteers and specific members of her hotel staff. Certain volunteers are in charge of checking and registering every individual before they are permitted access to the camp. The engineers and technicians who work in hotel Dwarika are responsible for building the many tent structures that make up Nepal’s Camp Hope.

Shrestha and her hotel supply Camp Hope with food. Camp Hope is striving to meet the emotional and social needs of the thousands of displaced individuals. In order to accomplish this feat, Camp Hope provides spaces for prayer, tents for creating crafts and has built a local school with 83 students currently enrolled. All of these programs help Camp Hope residents slowly recover from the tragic earthquake that changed their lives.

A devastating earthquake ripped through the Sindhupalchowk district on April 25, 2015. Fortunately, 500,000 families managed to survive despite the fact that their villages had been reduced to rubble. Those 500,000 families equated to approximately 88 percent of the dwellings in that district.

The earthquake was the worst natural disaster in Nepal in the last 80 years. Unfortunately, Nepal would suffer a second earthquake only 17 days later, followed by a series of aftershocks. Both of the earthquakes combined resulted in 6,200 deaths in Nepal alone, over 14,000 injuries across the country, and massive landslides that engulfed over 130,000 homes. According to the U.N., 8 million people were said to have been affected.

This is why Nepal’s Camp Hope is viewed as such a pivotal sanctuary for everyone who is a part of it. The overall atmosphere and environment is filled with laughter, conversation, activities and interaction between the residents.

The residents give vitality to Camp Hope, which truly feels like a unified community within a village. Although Camp Hope is a wondrous place for displaced individuals, the main mission is to rebuild the villages that were destroyed by the earthquakes. The U.S. and Nepal’s governments are working together to help rebuild the communities that were affected.

It was decided at the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction that U.S. funding for emergency relief and recovery efforts would be raised to $130 million.

Part of that funding will help establish 1,000 temporary educational centers for misplaced children. Not enough can be said about the valiant efforts put forth by the Nepalese government, the U.S. and Camp Hope. Millions of people have been positively affected and stronger communities will be built in the future.

Terry J. Halloran

Photo: Flickr

Resilience and Readiness: Preparing for Natural Disasters in Myanmar
Over the past 20 years, 139,515 deaths have resulted from natural disasters in Myanmar. Myanmar has experienced more of these fatalities than almost every other nation, with the exceptions of Haiti and Indonesia. In order to better prepare for and combat future consequences of natural disasters, Myanmar is working to improve its disaster training and community resilience practices.

The aftermath of natural disasters takes a toll on any nation but is generally worse in low-income nations. Myanmar’s floods in summer 2015, for example, caused 132 deaths, destroyed 1.2 million acres of rice and resulted in economic losses equaling 3.1 percent of the country’s GDP. Another 400,000 lives were disrupted by flooding in summer 2016, with additional damages to 400,000 acres of paddy fields. Such frequent and widespread damages necessitate policies of prevention, rather than reaction.

Myanmar has committed to a region-wide funding system to promote disaster preparedness. The fund “is an expression of the solidarity shared within the region, as well as recognition that preparedness is less costly than response,” said Poonam Khetrepal Singh, the U.N. World Health Organization’s director for the Southeast Asia Region. This funding will allow Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries to invest in the infrastructure and human resources needed to improve disaster preparedness.

Recent conferences and training seminars have further sought to change the attitude of response to one of prevention. Training has been conducted through the Adaptation Fund’s project entitled, “Addressing Climate Change Risks on Water Resources and Food Security in the Dry Zone of Myanmar.”

This project seeks to enhance disaster preparedness through community-based prevention practices. Protecting against the effects of natural disasters in Myanmar is also embedded in the Constitution, and Parliament has discussed and approved prevention plans for the 2016 El Niño heatwave. Integrating this narrative into legislation presents a genuine commitment to institutionalizing preventative measures.

Preparation for natural disasters in Myanmar is especially important in the country’s Dry Zone. Plagued by scarce water, thin vegetation cover, severely eroded soil and chronic poverty, residents are very limited in their livelihood opportunities. By taking preventative measures to enhance development and minimize the risks of future disasters, the Adaptation Fund’s project and other resilience-oriented training prove dedication to mitigating disaster-related effects.

The International Day for Disaster Reduction, observed this year on Oct. 13, marked a call for collaboration on disaster preparedness and reduction. In his 2016 message, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon encouraged governments and civil society members to work together towards the common goal of risk reduction. The pursuit of disaster training and community resilience shows a commitment to proactive climate action and changing attitudes of disaster response to disaster prevention.

McKenna Lux

Photo: Flickr

Nepal's Earthquake Relief Aid
In April 2015, Nepal experienced a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The disaster killed over 4,300 people and damaged many historic cultural sites. Yet over a year after the earthquake, much of the country finds itself still in ruins. Outside of the capital Kathmandu, many homes and public spaces lie in virtually untouched rubble.

Those who have experienced natural disasters such as Indonesia’s 2004 tsunami or Haiti’s 2010 earthquake note that it is common for aid-funded projects to not begin until a year after the disaster. This is because investors prefer to wait until the estimated costs have been assessed before beginning projects. With this in mind, here is a summary of aid given by some countries with the hopes that it will help with Nepal’s earthquake relief soon.

United Kingdom: The United Kingdom initially donated 5 million pounds to Nepal’s earthquake relief fund. Three million pounds were given to what is known as the Rapid Response Facility. This money is for use on the ground in addressing more immediate concerns such as water and shelter. An additional two million pounds was given to the British Red Cross to send British citizens as a form of follow-up aid.

India: India’s contribution to Nepal’s earthquake relief fund was coined Operation Maitri. The operation consisted largely of evacuating over 1,000 citizens and stranded tourists. They also dispatched many emergency supplies to Kathmandu. India’s aid position is unique because they have the ability of relatively easy ground transportation.

United States: In the year since the earthquake, the U.S. donated $130 million for Nepal’s earthquake relief. The initial Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) focused on providing first response services, especially search and rescue efforts as well as protecting human rights. Since then, USAID has continued to help recovery efforts by supporting temporary schools, training people for new construction projects and providing damaged farms with tools to help them get back on their feet.

Global Organizations: The U.N. pledged $15 million from its emergency response fund. This money is to be used on behalf of the international community, and the U.N. hopes to work with the Nepalese Government to best distribute aid. UNICEF and the World Food Program have both provided supplies such as food, medical supplies, and tents for shelter. They will also provide support in the form of people on the ground who hope to keep relief efforts running smoothly.

Lots of aid money has been supplied to help with Nepal’s earthquake relief, yet the rebuilding process has barely begun. Now that the chaos of the immediate aftermath of the disaster has subsided, Nepal and the rest of the world hope that global aid can begin to rebuild all affected areas.

Nathaniel Siegel

Photo: Flickr

Ecuadorian Refugees
In April, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed over 650 people across the provinces of Esmeraldas and Manabí in northwestern Ecuador. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes the nation had ever experienced. Rubbing salt into the wound, two strong aftershocks in May injured 90 people and devastated the two provinces.

The United Nations Refugee Agency has called on donors to immediately provide $73 million of support in order to respond to the needs of 350,000 people affected by the earthquake. Only 15 percent of that amount, however, has been received. Here are 10 facts about Ecuadorian refugees:

1. According to official records, around 73,000 people have been uprooted and are either residing in organized camps and shelters or with host families. Over 30,000 are currently staying in collective centers, where violence and abuse against women, boys and girls are rampant. Moreover, close to 15,000 people have lost their identity papers, making it difficult for them to access basic social programs and services.

2. The earthquake also destroyed 10,00 buildings and close to 560 schools. Thousands of people are staying in makeshift shelters, and 120,000 children are in immediate need of temporary educational centers. So far, the Ministry of Education has opened up temporary learning centers for 20,000 children and circulated 750 “school in a box” supplies to nearly 60,000 children.

3. The number of Zika Virus cases increased twelvefold in three months after the earthquake, from 92 to 1,106 nationwide. The most affected demographic is women between the ages of 15 and 49. This age range accounts for 509 cases in the Manabí Province alone.

4. In 2015, the United Nations Refugee Agency, alongside its partner organization Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and state and private institutions, launched an inventive poverty reduction program called the Graduation Model, which aims to lift 7,500 people out of poverty in 2016 via financial education and vocational training.

5. Ecuador hosts the highest number of refugees in all of Latin America. It is home to around 200,000 Colombian migrants, far more than any other Latin American country. Almost all of the Ecuadorian refugees fled to Ecudaor from the Colombian civil war. Although Ecuador gets some support from the United Nations and Colombia, it bears most of the social and financial burden for the refugees itself, costing the government around $60 million per year.

6. Approximately 17,000 refugees, mostly from Colombia, were residing in the areas most affected by the earthquake and its subsequent aftershocks. The crisis has made assimilation more difficult for them.

7. Since 2010, the asylums and protection spaces for Colombian refugees in Ecuador have been rapidly deteriorating. Ecuador signed both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, but the country revised its Refugee Act in the early 2010s to alter the original definition of “refugee.” This has restricted domestic asylum procdures for Colombian refugees, and many have been forced to live in remote jungles by the Colombian border, making them susceptible to armed conflict between FARC rebels trying to cross into Ecuador.

8. Limited livelihood opportunities, lack of access to health services, discrimination and police harassment are common in some areas. This has made secondary displacement of Colombian refugees within Ecuador common.

9. Plan Colombia, a U.S.-sponsored initiative working to wipe out cocaine crops in Colombia, ends up destroying adjacent farmlands. This creates a large number of economic migrants who are forced to relocate to Ecuador, where they live in constant threat of belligerents that follow them from Colombia. To be resettled, Colombian refugees must create a new testimony, just to make themselves fit the “refugee” definition.

10. A survey conducted by the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health in 2014 reported that 92.2 percent (404 out of 438) of Colombian refugees in Ecuador did not intend to return to Colombia. Out of these, around 9 percent were considering migrating to another area of Ecuador. Some 12 percent intended to migrate to a third country, mostly to the United States. Moreover, virtually no one had a precise short-term plan.

The April 2016 earthquake hit northwestern Ecuador, where most of the country’s Colombian refugees reside, the hardest. These refugees had originally fled from civil war in Colombia and had already lost their homes once. In Ecuador, they had managed to rebuild their lives. Dealing with the massive refugee influx from Colombia, as well as internally displaced people in Ecuador, remains a daunting task for the Ecuadorian government and the refugee agencies working on the ground.

Swapnil Mishra

Photo: Flickr

Nepal Earthquake
The 2015 Nepal earthquake left over 1 million children without a school. A little over a year has passed since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed thousands.

However, unrepaired damage continues to plague the country. The scope of the damage and political difficulties have meant much of the country still lies in rubble.

But the nation is making progress. Newly announced plans for reconstruction have set a three-year timeline for various progress goals, with education infrastructure named a top priority.

The Nepal earthquake destroyed 17,000 classrooms of nearly 8,000 schools, and the aftershocks damaged an additional 20,000 classrooms. While the donations obtained as of April 2016 tallied approximately $200 million, this was sufficient to repair only 1,700 schools.

Due to limited funding, the initial rebuilding efforts will focus primarily on education infrastructure in the hardest hit regions of the country. Over the course of three years, the national government hopes to accomplish significant rebuilding.

The overall economic impact of the earthquake on Nepal is estimated at nearly $7 billion. The country’s long history of political tension, combined with the magnitude of reparations needed, has led to an atmosphere of political urgency.

These tensions have aggravated preexisting political divides and slowed down measures to hasten reconstruction. Frustration with the situation has led to protests following the earthquake, making the need for efficient rebuilding of education infrastructure all the more urgent.

In the months following the earthquake, many students had to use temporary classrooms. These classrooms are not strong enough to withstand heavy Nepal weather (including monsoons). However, students have already used them for an entire winter season.

For those involved in the rebuilding efforts of prior learning spaces, avoiding the continued use of these classrooms is a top priority in order to provide students with a safe and stable learning environment.

The Nepal government continues to seek methods for resolving political differences and hastening reconstruction as much as possible. However, the three year-plan emphasizing education infrastructure represents major progress.

Additionally, humanitarian development organizations such as Plan International have contributed in the wake of the disaster. The organization recognized the importance of this project and hence began a classroom-rebuilding initiative.

Plan International seeks to rebuild 20 of the schools that the Nepal earthquake destroyed. They also plan to repair 1,600 damaged classrooms.

In order to further extend the positive impact of these schools, the buildings will have reinforcements that can withstand tough weather conditions. Additionally, Plan International will provide extreme weather training for students and teachers.

The students who lost their learning spaces in the Nepal earthquake will gain more than a building from this project.

They also represent increased safety for students. Schools not only provide education, but they also operate as a safe space. This rebuilding project could enact a decline in exploitation, child marriage and trafficking threats.

Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: CNN