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

The January earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 killed over 230,000 people and displaced 1.5 million. Soon after, the country suffered a mass outbreak of cholera; squalid camps were set up for refugees and Haiti sent out a call for help. Three years later the cholera epidemic has been stifled and the number of people living in these camps has dropped by 91 percent.

This is all due to the aid of foreign communities such as USAID and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) who sent a cumulative total of $450 million to “build it back better”.

The U.S. led the way in cleaning out Haiti’s coastal waters; Oxfam provided clean water to half a million people living in camps and supported the creation of work programs that put cash into the hands of refugees; the United Nation’s Population Fund (UNFPA) distributed safe birthing kits to expectant mothers; Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders opened a round-the-clock free clinic; UNICEF vaccinated more than three million children while integrating cholera-prevention into school curriculums; and the local government used funding to move those who had lost their homes out of refugee camps and into permanent structures.

There are those who would say the U.S. could have acted faster, and that we spent more than was needed. However the fact that Haiti, a small and deeply impoverished fixture of the developing world, could be re-stabilized and rebuilt greater than its former state in just over three years after such a disastrous setback is nothing short of miraculous.

Clément Bélizaire, director of the government’s camp relocation and rehabilitation program, says, “Since 1986, this the first time I’ve seen so many projects being implemented, and in many ways, a lot of neighborhoods today are in much better shape than before the quake due to significant investments made in infrastructures.”

Today there are 137,533 registered earthquake survivors in 243 camps sites, a monumental drop from the thousands of slum-like camps that used to clog the country. More Haitian children are in school than ever before, and the overall population of undernourished children has dropped. It can be hard to believe, but Haiti is now on the forefront of countries revolutionized by foreign aid, and countries like India and the Philippines are hoping to follow in its footsteps.

-Lydia Caswell

Photo: Washington Post
CNN, Miami Herald, Time, Oxfam, Huffington Post, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF


Following one of the worst droughts California has ever seen, experts are strongly advising that a long-term strategy for water use be implemented. The state currently has a quarter of its normal snowpack and water scarcity is expected to become a growing concern in California.

Scientists have also went on to attest that the effects of climate change may be devastating to California with more frequent and prolonged droughts to be expected in the future. Freshwater sources in California also stem largely from Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins, which have lost significant amounts of water already in the past few years.

Since 2011, the river basins have lost about 20-cubic-kilometers of freshwater and are now at their lowest point (in terms of water level) in the past decade.

The scarcity of water in California has alarmed many people and the government has already implemented programs to lower water usage. Accordingly, Governor Jerry Brown has urged the people of California to reduce their water usage by 20%.

The state has also proposed strict changes in their water policies to try to enact a short-term approach to the drought-stricken state. These policies include “moving toward comprehensive groundwater management, more treatment and reuse of wastewater, more use of storm water, more water efficiency improvements and adjusting water prices to fully cover associated costs.”

However, with the long-term projections of freshwater availability in California, the state will have to implement long-term solutions to the problem.

Because of the effects that water scarcity will have on the agricultural sector, which is heavily tied into the domestic economy, United States President Barack Obama has announced that he plans to appropriate funds towards the drought in California. On February 14, Obama proposed a 1 billion fund to alleviate the future impacts of climate change across the U.S.; he has also pledged 183 million towards drought relief programs in California.

After unusual weather events across the globe, including the heat wave in Australia, America’s polar vortex, flooding in Europe and the drought in California, the president has recently made steps to push his agenda on climate change. Especially focusing on rural America, Obama has also made steps to ensure the future of American agriculture, a sector that is already being heavily threatened by climate change impacts through various weather events.

The federal funds proposed by Obama are expected to become frequent as time progresses due to the projections of increasing severity in weather related events. In addition to the environmental stability that climate change threatens, economic stability is of the greatest concerns. Both short-term and long-term solutions will be required because problems are already evident, and they are expected to get significantly worse.

As stated by Obama, “A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.”

– Jugal Patel

Sources: My Desert, NY Times, My Sinchew
Photo: Embracing the Red Queen

As of December 2013, Thailand has had 646,770 incoming refugees, mostly from Myanmar, to which the Thai government responded by setting up nine camps on their border for temporary shelter. The United Nations reports that “with possible reduction in humanitarian assistance, the protection risks of economically vulnerable refugees who might resort to negative coping mechanisms for survival will represent an additional challenge…”

Before 2013 came to a close, one last tragedy hit the Thai people on December 27. Fires in two of the refugee camps on the Burmese border left the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to respond to the disaster, which caused approximately 600 people to become homeless. So far only one death has been reported, but 600 people are still left without homes.

The director of IRC programs in Thailand explains “This is a sad reminder of the refugee’s vulnerable living conditions. Families lost all of their possessions in a matter of minutes.” What would you do if you saw your possessions being turned to ashes? The people of Thailand also did not know what to do.

The IRC has since stepped in to provide health care, water and other services to all nine of the refugee camps, not only the two affected by the fire. Unfortunately, the Thai people did not expect anything less than a tragic end to 2013, but are thankful for the various health teams visiting the displaced families for counseling.

UNHCR explains that the refugees in Thailand have been fleeing conflict and crossing Myanmar’s eastern border jungles for safety for 30 years. Moreover, the IRC began working in Thailand in 1976, in response to the influx of refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

As it stands, the IRC has, for a while, been responsible for aiding 140,000 refugees in Thailand, responding to emergencies by providing urgent health care and supplies. Additionally, IRC provides legal counseling, emotional support and even assistance for refugees seeking admission to the United States.

– Lindsey Lerner

Sources: The UN Refugee Agency, International Rescue Committee
Photo: The Guardian

How To Make Disaster Aid Work

When disasters, such as floods, bombings, or earthquakes strike, people naturally want to help. This is humanistic and laudable but experts want to caution people who are looking to send aid because a surprising amount of charitable donations are more disastrous than helpful.

Director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jose Holguin Veras said, “If you go to a lot of disasters, as I do on a regular basis, you are going to find out talking to first responders that their number one issue is inappropriate disaster aid. They continually refer to that as the second disaster.”

Some donations Holguin Veras has come across? Wedding gowns, tuxedos, broken bikes, broken medical equipment, expired medications, undrinkable drinks, and sex toys. Holguin Veras estimated that about 60% of charitable donations are “completely useless and should not be there.” Even appropriate items can be problematic. For example, an amount of in-kind donations at disaster sites can clog roadways and prevent vital things, like water being trucked in, from making it into the sites. Another example comes from the Sandy Hook tragedy in which donors sent so many teddy bears and stuffed animals that the town had to ask for those type of donations to stop. The town finally finished the task of sending items that it could not use to India at the end of March.

Disaster relief experts say the most effective way to help is by sending monetary donations. Charitable organizations on the ground know what supplies are needed and more funding helps them be more effective. The Red Cross notes that material donations are not ideal because “these items often must be sorted, repackaged, and transported, which impedes valuable resources of money, time, and personnel that are needed for other aspects of our disaster relief operation.”

Make your donation count by donating to reputable organizations that are active in the area of the disaster. Disaster aid can only works if it is helping to create positive change.

– Essee Oruma

Source: Global Post
Photo: Morning Journalt