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Impacted by HurricanesOn November 2, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. As a Category 4 hurricane, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the Central American region in many years. Shortly after, Hurricane Iota hit. Thousands have died and many have experienced displacement. Since Central America is one of the poorest areas of Latin America, the U.S. is in a position to help alleviate the crisis by providing foreign aid to those impacted by hurricanes.

Poverty in Central America

Nicaragua is the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, Nicaragua’s poverty rate sits around 15.1%. Geographically, the poorest area of Nicaragua is the Atlantic Coast of the country. Similarly, Honduras is an impoverished nation located north of Nicaragua. Honduras is also one of the poorest countries in Central America. Furthermore, Honduras’ geographical location leaves it exposed to extreme weather such as heavy rainfall and droughts. The most vulnerable, oftentimes rural and coastal populations, are susceptible to these intense weather changes. Neighboring countries of El Salvador and Guatemala are also impoverished nations with vulnerable populations. The increased climate disasters leave these populations at risk of death, poverty and becoming climate refugees.

Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota

On the eve of Hurricane Eta’s landfall, the Nicaraguan government evacuated around 3,000 families living in the coastal area. According to UNICEF, more than a million Nicaraguans, which also includes half a million children, were endangered by the hurricane. El Salvador evacuated people as a precaution and many of Guatemala’s departments declared a state of emergency.

Hurricane Eta made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm destroyed houses, hospitals and businesses. Widespread flooding and mudslides were responsible for the casualties across the region. Unfortunately, Hurricane Eta was not the only storm blasting through Central America.

Weather forecasters predicted another strong storm, Hurricane Iota. Also a Category 4 hurricane, Iota made landfall 15 miles south of where Hurricane Eta did just days prior. The hurricane further stalled the rescue efforts of the region. In Honduras, the hurricanes impacted around 4 million people with more than 2 million losing access to health care. Moreover, Guatemala had more than 200,000 people seeking shelter after the two hurricanes.

Foreign Aid to Central America

The Central American region is impoverished and vulnerable to natural disasters. Furthermore, many Central American nations depend on foreign aid from the United States. The countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (the Northern Triangle) rely on foreign aid from the U.S. to manage rural poverty, violence, food insecurity and natural disasters. Moreover, that aid has been reduced under the Trump administration. Since Donald Trump took office, the aid for these countries has reduced from $750 million to $530 million. In April 2019, Trump froze $450 million of foreign aid to the Northern Triangle, further diminishing the lives of many. Foreign aid keeps Central Americans from plummeting to extreme poverty and also curtails migration to the United States.

Congress Pleads for Foreign Aid

As Hurricane Eta ravaged through Central America, Rep. Norma Torres (CA-35) wrote a letter urging Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to increase foreign aid to Central America. Torres (CA-35) wrote, “Hurricane Eta was an unavoidable natural disaster, but its aftermath is a preventable humanitarian crisis in the making.” In addition, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), Eliot Engel (NY-16), also showed his support for increased aid to those Hurricane Eta impacted. Engel wrote, “a large-scale U.S. effort is needed to provide much-needed relief to those affected by Eta so that they are not forced to leave their countries and make the perilous journey north.”

USAID Provides Disaster Relief

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has agreed to increase aid by $17 million to the countries impacted by Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota. Studies have shown that foreign aid is a successful policy to reduce global poverty. Any aid given to these countries benefits the lives of those impacted by hurricanes in several significant ways.

– Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

Wheat to SudanSudan’s position on the list of states that sponsor terrorism restricted their trades, imports and economy. However, with the recent removal, Sudan has already reaped the benefits of foreign aid from the United States. USAID approved a $20 million payment to the World Food Programme to provide a massive 65,000 metric ton shipment of wheat to Sudan.

Diplomacy Opens Doors

The $20 million shipment of wheat to Sudan is part of an $81 million commitment from the U.S. to help Sudan fight poverty and hunger. This contribution will bring its total aid for the fiscal year to over $400 million, making the U.S. the largest aid sponsor to Sudan.

Sudan’s removal from the list of states sponsoring terrorism was contingent on Sudan’s recognition of Israel as a nation.  After such recognition, Israel also sent a $5 million wheat shipment to Sudan.

Economic Lockdown Compounds Hunger Crisis

While Sudan has found recent diplomatic success, its plight as a nation remains dire. Nearly half of Sudanese people are in poverty, with 46% living under the poverty line as of 2018.

Roughly nine million people will need food assistance in 2020, up by 9% from 2019, as widespread poverty has been worsened by the effect of COVID-19 on the economy.

Further stress on already limited food resources comes from droughts, floods and conflict that has displaced nearly two million people, compounded with hosting one million refugees who need food assistance.

The rampant poverty in Sudan has led to extreme numbers of children suffering from hunger and malnutrition across the nation. The number of children facing emergency food insecurity levels doubled over the last year to 1.1 million. According to Save the Children’s country director in Sudan, Arshad Malik, “120 children are dying every day due to malnutrition.”  Overall, 9.6 million individuals in Sudan are food insecure as a result of lockdown restrictions, a weak economy, natural disasters and conflict.

USAID Contributes to Disaster Relief

Although the weak economy has waned further from job losses and food prices soaring from economic restrictions, food aid remains the first priority for Sudan and USAID. Additionally, Sudan has suffered from its worst floods in 100 years, which has caused massive destruction due to vast underdevelopment. USAID granted another $60 million in aid for Sudan to recover from flooding and fight waterborne diseases that can spread during floods.

Foreign Aid Essential to Development

Sudan’s new democracy undoubtedly faces short and long-term obstacles with regard to the country’s development and stability. Natural disasters, economic woes, poverty and hunger, cripple an already struggling nation. The shipment of wheat to Sudan from USAID is crucial for helping the people of Sudan meet their daily needs and alleviating hunger and poverty. Extending the olive branch of foreign aid creates interdependence between nations and encourages peace and prosperity. Bringing nations such as Sudan out of poverty creates a more secure, just and prosperous world.

– Adrian Rufo
Photo: Flickr

Hurricanes in HondurasIn November 2020, Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota made landfall just two weeks apart in northeastern Nicaragua. The hurricanes spread across Central America. Honduras was one of the countries hit with severe destruction. In the wake of these storms, homelessness in Honduras reached all-time highs and an active humanitarian crisis unfolded as humanitarian organizations and policymakers struggled to contend with flooding, displacement and the spread of COVID-19. The aftermath of hurricanes in Honduras requires urgent humanitarian aid.

Poverty in Honduras

Nearly half of Honduras’ population lives in poverty. The poverty rate is higher in rural parts of the country than it is in urban centers. Whereas half of all Hondurans who live in the countryside subsist in varying states of poverty, less than half of all Hondurans who live in urban areas lead lives plagued by poverty,

The disparity between rich Hondurans and poor Hondurans is overwhelmingly large. A robust middle-class has yet to take shape in Honduras so Hondurans filter into one of two polarized class groups. A high rate of violence makes life treacherous for the poor.

Seasonal flooding has a detrimental effect on economic growth. Flooding from Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota combined with seasonal flooding make 2020 one of the worst years in Honduras’ history. Livestock and farmlands were swept away and Hondurans have had to search desperately for other means to feed themselves.

Homelessness and Hurricanes in Honduras

In 1998, three million Hondurans were made homeless by Hurricane Mitch and tens of thousands were forced to flee to the United States. The devastation that was unleashed by Hurricane Mitch is the closest analog to the combined effects of Eta and Iota. Reports on the rate of homelessness in Honduras after Eta and Iota remain incomplete, but it is undoubtedly high, similar in scope to the rate of homelessness in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch.

7 Responses to Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota

  1. Public Investment in Infrastructure and Social Programs. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez plans to engage “four times the nation’s annual budget in infrastructure and social programs to help Hondurans recover from devastating storms.” His plan will put thousands of Hondurans to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, so it works on two important levels. First, his plan creates jobs for Hondurans whose livelihoods were lost as a result of the hurricanes. Second, it will lead to necessary rebuilding projects.

  2. USAID Funding. By the beginning of December 2020, USAID had committed close to $50 million for humanitarian aid to meet the needs of Honduras’ relief efforts. Funding goes to securing “emergency food, shelter, urgent medical care, clean water, sanitation and hygiene.”

  3. USAID’s Honduras Emergency WASH and Shelter (HEWS) Program. In mid-December 2020, USAID announced that it will send packs of materials to “select families” through its HEWS program, which families can use to rebuild damaged or destroyed homes. Experts will also be sent to teach families how to use the material that has been sent and to work alongside families during the initial stages of the rebuilding process.

  4. Project HOPE Emergency Medical Teams. In remote villages, where poverty rates tend to be highest, villagers have scarce access to medical services. Project HOPE medical teams focus on these locations because unsanitary water supplies have been identified there. Also, cases of COVID-19 have been reported.

  5. Project HOPE WASH Program. Potable water is provided to 3,000 families through Project HOPE’s WASH program. Additionally, resources for sanitizing water, including chlorine and training materials, are provided to families so that water purification practices can be carried out indefinitely.

  6. AMDA Emergency Relief. Relief supplies, including food, coverings and hygienic supplies, were distributed to several dozen families through a partnership between AMDA and AMDA-Honduras. The rate of homelessness in Honduras is so high that many people have taken shelter in nursing homes. Hondurans who lost their homes as a result of Eta and Iota live side by side with Honduras’ elderly. Similar AMDA relief packs were distributed throughout such facilities.

  7. Distribution of KN95 and Surgical Masks. Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have accompanied the disastrous effects of Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota. Project HOPE distributed hundreds of thousands of KN95 and surgical masks to activists, doctors and frontline workers throughout Honduras to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Hope on the Horizon for Honduras

Hurricanes in Honduras coupled with COVID-19 created severe consequences for people living there. Long-term concerns include the effect that lack of adequate health services will have on mothers, pregnant women, newborns and young children. Many humanitarian organizations are prioritizing aid to remote parts of the country to mitigate the effects of isolation. The spread of disease is an additional concern. A comprehensive solution to the crisis at hand will involve combined efforts.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

explosion in BeirutOrganizations all over the world have come together to provide aid after the explosion in Beirut, which killed over 200 citizens on Aug. 4. Medical emergencies, homelessness and food insecurity were all matters of immediate importance identified by these various organizations. Listed below are eight of those organizations as well as information on what they have done to help.

Organizations Helping Lebanon

  1. The British Red Cross created an emergency fund for medical assistance for those affected by the blast. Working with the Lebanese Red Cross, the organization provided immediate medical care to those in need. This critical medical care includes anything from the treatment of potentially lethal injuries to the mental health care needed to cope with the loss of a loved one.
  2. The United Nations’ World Food Programme has focused on providing food to people in Beirut. According to the U.N., the blast not only destroyed grain stores at the port but also threatens future food security, as most of Lebanon’s food comes through the Beirut port. This has only exacerbated an already existing food insecurity problem in the country. In response, the U.N. has sought to distribute 150,000 parcels of food to citizens.
  3. Humanity and Inclusion, an American NGO, sent 100 members to lead critical rehabilitation services. Though the explosion damaged the organization’s Beirut offices, none of its members were injured. The organization sent 100 members to lead critical rehabilitation services, going straight to work providing care for others.
  4. Islamic Relief USA, an organization that provides disaster relief and development aid, has been working in Lebanon since 2006. Accordingly, the organization was quick to react to the explosion. It sought to create supply chains for emergency aid that will have long-lasting effects.
  5. After the explosion in Beirut, UNICEF sent members on the ground to assist with distributing medical supplies and helping first responders. It also handed out items such as blankets and hygiene kits to those in need. UNICEF has estimated, however, that it will need $47 million to properly assist the citizens affected by the blast.
  6. Project HOPE has focused on communicating with health officials to distribute medical supplies. The organization has four emergency health kits that volunteers will disperse, with each kit capable of providing support for 10,000 people. Project HOPE aims to give out even more supplies to those affected by the explosion in the future.
  7. In the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut, Save the Children reported that approximately 80,000 children were displaced. The children’s hospital was also destroyed. Last year, the organization was able to help 85,000 children in Lebanon. In the wake of the explosion, it has teams ready to aid efforts for emergency medical relief.
  8. The International Rescue Committee has provided funds to local organizations in Beirut, focusing on the need for emergency psychological care. According to the organization, 150,000 women and girls were displaced by the blast. Accordingly, the International Rescue Committee has also assisted with cash aid to those affected, to prevent possible abuse and exploitation.

Emergency aid after the explosion in Beirut has become a primary focus of each of these organizations as well as many more. As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the world, it is even more critical that citizens of Lebanon get the help they need as quickly as possible.

– Aradia Webb
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Countries Contributing to Foreign AidIn February, the U.N. declared that 109 million people were in critical circumstances. In other words, international assistance is more important than ever. Countries around the world are fighting to alleviate global poverty, but some are doing a better job than others. Read further to find out which nations make the list for the top 10 countries contributing to foreign aid.

Top 10 Countries Contributing to Foreign Aid

  1. Luxembourg – Even though it is one of the smallest countries in the world, Luxembourg is a world leader in foreign aid. In 1970, the U.N. urged wealthy nations to contribute 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) to foreign aid. Luxembourg was the second country to achieve this goal. Today, the government invests 1.07 percent of its GNI to foreign aid.
  2. Sweden – Contributing 1.04 percent of its GNI to international development, Sweden landed itself at the top of this list in 1974. In 2018, it was still considered the largest donor when taking into account the size of its economy. The Swedish government expects to spend nearly $6 billion on foreign aid by the end of 2019. Primary concerns regarding foreign aid include agriculture, education, global health and nutrition.
  3. United Kingdom – In 2017, the U.K. spent more than 14 billion pounds on international assistance. The largest recipient of this aid was Pakistan followed by Ethiopia and Nigeria. The majority of funding is donated to humanitarian projects. Approximately 64 percent of aid is sent directly via bilateral organizations. The remaining percentage is distributed indirectly via organizations like the U.N.
  4. Norway – In 2018, Norway revised its foreign aid policies. In the new outline, the government mandates that at least 1 percent of its GNI is spent on international assistance. The proposal also focuses on health and education as its chief concerns.
  5. Ireland – In July 2018, Ireland relaunched a new foreign aid policy aptly named A Better World. One of the primary goals of this policy is to ensure that 0.7 percent of the GNI is spent on international development. It is estimated that this target will be met by 2030. Furthermore, the policy emphasizes climate action, gender equality and strengthened governance. For female education alone, the country has committed to spending 250 euros within the next five years.
  6. Japan – Japan is the largest contributor to foreign aid in Asia. In 2018, the country donated $14.2 billion. Japan has publicly committed to using the official development assistance (ODA) for guidance in future development.
  7. Canada – Unlike other countries, Canada has taken a unique feminist approach. Its foreign aid policy uses feminism as its core value. By promoting the success of women around the world, Canada hopes to create a more equal balance in power. The country believes that an increase in women’s rights would lead to other areas of progression, such as a more inclusive government and representation for minorities.
  8. France – Within the past year, France has committed to enhancing its foreign aid policy. Currently, the country donates 0.43 percent of its GNI to foreign aid. However, by the year 2022, the French government aims to increase this level to 0.55 percent. The primary objective of this increase is to aid in international stability.
  9. Finland – In just the first part of 2019, Finland has already administered 68.35 million euros in foreign assistance. The government distributes its finances through a process that includes evaluating the extent of a crisis, assessing how many deaths and illnesses have occurred and recording the percentage of the population affected by the issue. Finland also prioritizes its aid to countries that have formally submitted a request to the U.N.
  10. United States of America – Last but not least on the list for the top 10 countries contributing to foreign aid is the U.S. The current American aid system was created in 1961. However, disputes surrounding U.S. investment have increased in recent years. President Trump has repeatedly fought for cuts in the budget while others advocate for the amount to be raised. In 2016, the U.S. contributed approximately $49 billion in foreign assistance.

Ultimately, there is still a lot of work to be done. With millions of people in crisis, it is important that the wealthiest nations help combat the issues that plague the poorest. If not for humanitarian reasons, foreign aid can help elite nations by increasing the global economy and infrastructure. When looking at success stories like China (which once was a U.S. aid recipient but now a financial leader), one can understand the impact of international assistance.

Photo: Flickr

Recovery from Cyclone FaniCyclone Fani made landfall in India on May 3, 2019. Puri City, located in the Odisha state, was hit the hardest and experienced heavy rain and wind speeds in excess of 130 mph. This was equivalent to a Category Four hurricane. It was the worst cyclone to hit India since the 1999 super-cyclone that impacted the coast of Odisha for nearly 30 hours, killing 10,000 people. Over one million residents were evacuated ahead of the storm in Odisha. Finally, nearly 10 million people were impacted by severe weather conditions across India’s most northern states. This incredible amount of damage has resulted in a long road to recovery from Cyclone Fani.

More Damage from Cyclone Fani

Cyclone Fani caused widespread power outages and significant infrastructure damage in Puri. Many homes and businesses were completely destroyed. So far, 77 people died due to the cyclone.

The severe damage to infrastructure, homes and agricultural land has displaced millions of people from their homes. They sought refuge in shelter locations. There are also problems with accessing basic utilities such as clean water and food in the hardest fit areas. Over 4.8 million children have also been displaced in the Odisha state alone.

Government Relief Efforts

India’s government has pledged its full support toward recovery. Besides the thousands of shelters that have been set-up across the country, relief ministers have been touring the hardest-hit areas. More than 100,000 government officials, 45,000 volunteers and 9,000 shelters have been mobilized. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been working with international aid groups and countries around the world that are wanting to provide aid. Odisha’s Chief Minister has also created the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund where people can donate to relief efforts.

Organizations Offering Relief

The United Nations has stepped in to ensure that at-risk refugees in India and Bangladesh are protected from the after-effects of Cyclone Fani. Fani impacted many Bangladesh towns, such as Cox’s Bazar. These towns are home to nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees. They are a high-risk group because of an ongoing genocide crisis in Myanmar.

International aid groups and NGOs such as Christian Aid, World Vision and ActionAid have created relief funds that focus on providing essential supplies such as food and water. These groups have also sent recovery teams to India to help with relief efforts. Churches and local communities have also organized relief groups.

Issues Impacting Recovery

While efforts are being made to speed up recovery, there have been protestors in Odisha’s state capital, Bhubaneswar. They are demanding reducing costs of high food and water prices, along with ensuring a fast recovery.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy, an international aid group, has identified the most important recovery efforts. Some of these efforts are:

  1. Emergency shelter
  2. Nutritional supplies
  3. Rebuilding schools
  4. Restoring electricity

How to Help the Recovery from Cyclone Fani

International residents are encouraged to take the following steps in order to help India recover:

  1. Join ActionAid’s on-ground relief – ActionAid is recruiting people for its on-ground recovery operations. Volunteers are working in the highly-impacted areas, including Puri City.
  2. Contact local representatives – Contact local government officials in court area and voice concerns about helping India recover from Cyclone Fani. The more times local representatives are contacted, the greater the chance that action will be taken.
  3. Organize members in local communities – Organize members in local communities and help spread awareness. Bake-sales, car washes and social media are great ways to spread awareness and raise money. The more people who are involved in relief efforts, the faster India will recover from Cyclone Fani’s devastating after-effects.

Recovery from Cyclone Fani will not be an overnight process, but with collaboration through India’s government, international organizations, NGOs and citizens from all over the world, the hardest-hit areas will be able to make a full recovery.

– Kyle Arendas
Photo: Flickr

Drones Can Address Poverty

Technology is not inherently good or bad; it’s how it’s used. From music videos to saving lives, drone operations span the spectrum of ethics and morality. Drones are able to travel in minutes to places that would normally take hours or days by traditional methods. As a result, social entrepreneurs and humanitarian organizations are utilizing drones to deliver medical supplies, survey the aftermath of natural disasters and even plant trees to combat deforestation. In developing countries, drones can be used to save countless lives. Here are five ways drones can address poverty across the world:

5 Ways Drones Can Address Poverty

  1. Delivering Medical Supplies
    Over one billion people in low-income countries do not have access to reliable roads, jeopardizing their access to proper medical care. Enter drones. Companies like Matternet are creating UAV supply highways that can quickly reach people in remote areas. By partnering with organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Matternet is running trials in Papua New Guinea and Haiti. These are trials to reinvent healthcare access and battle tuberculosis epidemics.
    Drones are also being used by the United Nations Population Fund to deliver contraceptives to remote regions of Ghana. This is a place where was almost no access to birth control. Approximately 225 million women in developing countries are in need of birth control but do not have access to it. Drones can cut contraceptive delivery times down from two days to 30 minutes.
  2. Reforesting (and Protecting) the Planet
    Approximately 1.6 billion people rely on forest resources for food, fuel, shelter, clothing and medicine. Yet, 15 billion trees are cut down every year.
    To reverse deforestation, drones are being used by companies like BioCarbon Engineering. They do this by planting tree seedlings, along with other microorganisms and fungi, to increase soil health. For instance, in just one day, BioCarbon planted 5,000 trees in Dungog, Australia, a region ravaged by coal mining. BioCarbon has planted 25,000 trees since the company’s inception. Additionally, it is working towards a goal of planting one billion trees every year.
    Not only can drones restore forest ecosystems, but they can also catch illegal loggers from destroying them in the first place. Indigenous communities in the Amazon and southern Guyana have employed drones to document illegal loggers and miners, using the proof to demand public officials to take action. In this way, drones can address poverty and also improve the planet.
  3. Assisting in Search and Rescue
    Search and rescue missions are one of the five ways drones can address poverty. In 2015, during the European migrant crisis, an estimated 5,000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean. Certainly, many organizations found this completely unacceptable.
    The start-up NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) began employing drones in 2015 to find boats carrying refugees lost at sea. Christopher Catrambone, the founder of MOAS, has stated that drones are responsible for locating five of the eight boats that MOAS rescued in 2015. “Prior to using the drones, we felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” explained Catrambone.
  4. Providing Disaster Relief
    Another way that drones can address poverty is in how they are incredible tools for disaster relief. They allow organizations to map out the aftermath and locate target areas for immediate aid. After Super Typhoon Haiyan killed over 6,000 Filipinos and destroyed approximately one million homes, drones were deployed by aid organizations to assess the damage and bring relief.
    When every minute could be a life saved, drones can begin assessing disaster aftermath in three minutes. Helicopters, on the other hand, take up to an hour. From locating mines displaced after the Balkan floods in 2014 to functioning as mini-ambulances, equipped with defibrillators and EMS supplies, drones have the capability of saving countless lives.
  5. Helping Farmers and Local Businesses
    Drones are helping farmers around the world monitor the health of their crops by taking multi-spectral aerial images. Combine this information with weather data, and farmers can better understand how water, fertilizer and types of soil positively or negatively affect their crops.

Drones Testing in Malawi

USAID has been funding a project in Malawi. The project is employing drones to help farmers increase crop production and fight hunger. Malawi has also recently opened a Humanitarian Drone Testing Corridor. This attracts industries, universities and individuals who want to test their drones for humanitarian and development work.

Fighting Poverty in China with Drones

In China, rural communities are being uplifted by being drones are being used to uplift rural communities by connecting them with the larger economy. Many villages are located in rough terrain, making it difficult and time-consuming to transport products to outside markets. JD, one of China’s biggest online retailers, has been using drones to help people deliver their products within a 150-mile radius. In fact, this method has a top speed of 62 miles per hour. JD is committed to fighting poverty. Additionally, it is operating in over 30 villages.

Positive Impact of Drones

These five ways drones can address poverty highlight what is possible when technology, social entrepreneurship and humanitarian issues collide. But at the end of the day, drones are one tool in the fight against poverty. However, they do have inevitable drawbacks and limitations.

Drone strikes have traumatized many communities. They may even invariably associate UAVs with the military. It is also important to be aware of the structure of privilege and deep-seated inequalities that continue to determine access to technology around the world. Overall, drones are little without people. Yet in the fight against poverty and inequality, it’s people who must embody change.

– Kate McIntosh
Photo: Pixabay

worst tsunami ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Shane Summers

Photo: Flickr

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

Insufficient Funding

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

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

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

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

Misplaced Trust

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

– Toni Paz

Photo: Flickr

Are Natural Disasters Getting Worse?According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the amount of flood and storm catastrophes has risen by 7.4 percent annually in recent decades. With reports of excessive weather damage constantly in the news, it is important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? 

By definition, natural disasters are any form of catastrophic events induced by nature or natural activities of the Earth. Some examples include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis and tornadoes. The severity of such disasters is typically measured by the number of deaths, economic loss and the nation’s capacity to rebuild.

Many natural disasters are beyond human control. The constant motion of Earth’s tectonic plates initiates earthquakes and tsunamis. Fluctuation in solar radiation infiltrating the atmosphere and oceans give rise to storms in the summer and blizzards in the winter.

However, sometimes natural disasters aren’t so natural and are caused by humanity’s interference with the Earth’s system.

For example, as environmental pollution increases, humans are contributing more energy to the system; which strengthens the likelihood of repeated hazards such as flash floods, bushfires, heatwaves and tropical cyclones. 

So are natural disasters getting worse? The answer is yes. The number of geophysical disasters on Earth’s surface, like earthquakes, landslides and volcano eruptions, have remained steady since the 1970s. But the number of climate-related catastrophes has vastly increased. The amount of damage done to the economy due to these catastrophes has seen a steady upsurge.

There were triple the number of natural disasters between 2000 to 2009 as the number that occurred between 1980 to 1989. A large majority, 80 percent, of this growth is caused by climate-related happenings.

It may no longer be important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? But instead: Why are natural catastrophes getting worse?

The scale of disasters has swelled due to higher rates of urbanization, deforestation, environmental degradation and escalating climatic elements like high temperatures, extreme rain and snow and more brutal wind and water storms.

Dangerous events do not need to result in a tragedy. Limiting vulnerability and increasing the ability to respond to these disasters can save lives. Additionally, the continuous evolution of science and technology is making it more possible to anticipate disasters, provide aid quicker and allow for the rebuilding of cities in safer areas.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr