Puerto Rico
On September 20, 2017, tragedy struck the island territory of Puerto Rico with the landfall of Hurricane Maria. The people living there were faced with many consequences from the category 4 storm, including the temporary closure of schools and a cost of damage reaching $94 billion.

In the midst of an economic recession, this disaster left many poverty-stricken families without the means to survive. As the storm passes its one-year anniversary, Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico are still in full force, and progress is being made each day.

The Initial Response

With sustained winds at 155 miles per hour along with catastrophic flooding, several trees, cell towers and homes were uprooted during the hurricane, causing a loss of electricity and lack of clean water or food. The initial response by The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was criticized. They faced a particularly difficult set of problems with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as wildfires in California. The organizational fatigue resulted in specific flaws in the preparation for hurricane season in Puerto Rico and the failure of having adequate supplies in the area.

FEMA emptied 80 percent of its Puerto Rico-based Caribbean Distribution Center in response to Hurricane Irma, landing just weeks before Maria. However, despite the lack of resources available, FEMA, along with local first responders, the government of Puerto Rico, The Department of Defense, The U.S. Coast Guard and many others began recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, providing food, water, first aid and other life-saving supplies. Furthermore, FEMA activated its “surge capacity force” with more than 640 federal employees temporarily leaving their jobs to support the efforts.

Recovery Through the Months

A month after Hurricane Maria hit, 80 percent of the island was without power and 30 percent was without drinking water. However, FEMA’s response efforts continued, becoming the largest and longest commodity delivery mission in the agency’s history. The agency provided 17 million gallons of potable water and 72 million liters of bottled water the months following.

More than 60 nongovernmental organizations and government partners were on the ground assisting less than a month after the tragedy. The Red Cross developed a recovery plan to assist with the most urgent requests, focusing on four key aspects- access to power, access to clean water, livelihood restoration and community health. With many families losing their homes and livelihoods because of income-generating crops being destroyed by the storm, The Red Cross aimed to help citizens restore their jobs and become more self-sufficient through microgrants to small businesses and training in agriculture and home reconstruction.

Hurricane Maria Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico Today

On August 28, 2018, the catastrophic death toll was 2,975. This count makes Hurricane Maria one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history and increases the pain each citizen continues to feel as a result. Though the community endures the heartbreak of Hurricane Maria every day, the progress since the tragedy has shown tremendous hope.

The island’s power authority says more than 95 percent of the population has restored electricity. All 68 hospitals are open, and efforts are being made to provide temporary facilities for the remaining damaged health clinics. More than 1,843 generators have been installed, and about 4,200 power line workers are working to repair transmission and distribution lines for the areas that have had an inconsistent power supply.

As the territory recuperates and works towards attracting tourism again, the citizens have expressed much resilience and hope. Though this may sound like a tragedy come and gone, the Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico will reflect through each citizen every day.

– Beth Dowdy

Photo: Flickr

hunger in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, exacerbating the hardships already faced by the people of the island. According to the 2016 U.S. Census, of the island’s 3.4 million people, 44 percent live in poverty. Due to the combination of these circumstances, hunger in Puerto Rico has increased.

However, much attention has been brought to the difficulties on the island resulting from the hurricane, leading to widespread relief efforts from individual volunteers and nonprofit organizations. Together, these groups are working to help Puerto Ricans.

Puerto Rico is a United States territory, yet, as recently as September 2017, only 54 percent of Americans knew that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens as well. This complicates the aid and relief efforts from the U.S. government that Puerto Rico is eligible to receive, making volunteer efforts to alleviate hunger in Puerto Rico even more important.

10 Facts About Hunger in Puerto Rico

  1. Before the 2017 hurricanes, Puerto Ricans were four times more likely to be food insecure than the U.S. average. The Nutrition Assistance Program in Puerto Rico is the island’s main anti-hunger program and helps feed low-income residents.
  2. After Hurricane Maria, 85 percent of Puerto Ricans were food insecure. This means that the vast majority of the island’s population did not have a reliable means to access nutritious meals. This percentage continues to drop as essential utilities, such as electricity, are restored on the island.
  3. The availability of food in supermarkets was limited after the hurricane, and the food that was available saw high price surges. To combat this, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, asked the Department of Justice to investigate and sued the supermarket chains that increased their prices.
  4. One mayor estimated that 5,000 residents faced starvation. The government did not allocate adequate food resources for each person, preventing them from accessing the appropriate quantities of food. Federal aid, farming and volunteer food efforts worked to combat this problem and bring food to the island.
  5. Hurricane Maria destroyed about a quarter of Puerto Rico’s farmland, making it difficult to grow crops long-term. The U.S. Department of Agriculture worked to assess the damage and make sure people received food.
  6. Eighty percent of the current crops were destroyed by Hurricane Maria, which equals $780 million lost. Crops such as plantains, coffee, sugarcane and citrus fruits were destroyed. However, some farmers were able to maintain some areas to feed themselves when no other food sources were available.
  7. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $1 billion in aid and more than four million meals. They have also provided clean, safe drinking water.
  8. #ChefsforPuertoRico provides meals to thousands of Puerto Ricans. It is run by celebrity chef Jose Andrés alongside Puerto Rican chefs to ensure access to food each day.
  9. Volunteer efforts are ongoing. High school students worked to assemble easy to cook, nutritious and allergy-free meals to send to Puerto Rico as recently as February 2018. The meals they assemble stay good for up to three years before cooking, which makes them easy to transport.
  10. Even with these efforts, more aid is still necessary. Federal aid alone has not been sufficient and increasing the resources sent to Puerto Rico would help ensure sufficient healthy food access for all the residents of the island.

Even though hunger in Puerto Rico increased after the devastating hurricanes in 2017, the numbers are now decreasing, largely thanks to volunteer efforts and island restoration. Further, rebuilding opens a possibility to develop an environmentally and socially sustainable island that could alleviate the high rates of hunger and poverty, allowing Puerto Rico to endure the effects of a future hurricane more easily.

– Hayley Herzog

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

Recovering from Natural Disaster
Water, wind, fire and earth are four key elements which, when combined properly, create a perfectly harmonious world. But if one decides to go slightly awry, disaster can strike.

When disaster strikes, media coverage of the event and its aftermath is extensive and intense. After all of the tragic glamour of the disaster subsides, however, the public rarely hears any more about the victims, who are forced to rebuild their lives for years.

Water strikes in the form of a tsunami, one of which hit Japan rather brutally in 2011 and whose mark can still be seen four years later. While Japan is rather used to getting hit with natural disasters, as it has been home to some of the worst disasters in the 21st century, according to the Japan Times, it still has around 230,000 people living in temporary housing four years after the tsunami. Recovery has been slow partially because of the involvement of another element, earth: Soon after the tsunami hit, an earthquake followed. This came as a result of Japan existing within the “Ring of Fire,” which is the area of the world most susceptible to earthquakes due to tectonic plate positioning. The combined damages from the earthquake and the tsunami totaled to around $300 billion.

This earthquake caused a crack in a nuclear reactor close to Japanese water supplies, and this small, fiery crack led to a whole host of issues. Contaminated water was only another issue on a long list of things that needed to be fixed after this collection of tragic events. To repair the damage, Japan enacted a seven step plan, which has been slowly making progress and is almost complete. But none of this would have been possible without the aid of foreign nations and the support systems they have in place.

In the United States, there are organizations such as the Red Cross and FEMA, which allocate money and volunteers to help in the event of an emergency. Internationally, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies act to help nations develop and carry out their disaster relief plans. While the IRFC has developed several guidelines and regulations, few states have followed these regulations without contradicting one another. Recently, the organization has strived to perfect its work by releasing guidelines that strictly adhere to those adopted by state parties at the Geneva Convention, and have also created model acts and disaster law databases to permit governments to ensure that they are getting the best help possible.

Disaster can strike without warning and the side effects can lasts for years afterward. It is imperative for the global community to understand the old economic theory of the butterfly effect — when one problem occurs, even if it is halfway across the world, it will have repercussions for everyone. By helping each other grow and recover we preserve industry, trade and the lives of individuals who do not have a place to call home. Disaster can ruin lives, but that does not mean that we should let it.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: IFRC, Live Science
Photo: The New York Times

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Hunger Program
Whenever and wherever there is a tragedy, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and Hunger Program (PHP) are there to help. These groups are part of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry of the Presbyterian Church and serve all people, regardless of ethnicity, religion or political belief.

The Presbyterian Church remains neutral with its financial backing. The organization does not support its programs with federal funding. Rather, the Disaster Assistance and Hunger Program are funded mainly by a yearly congregation offering the “One Great Hour of Sharing.” Although the PDA and PHP are run by the same organization, they each serve different functions for those in need.

The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program focuses on bringing emergency and refugee services to communities impacted by catastrophe. If resettlement is deemed necessary, the PDA ensures that these people find homes in the United States. Staff members and volunteers work with the Action by Churches Together (ACT Alliance) and these communities to implement training and preparation strategies for future disasters and assist in-home repairs and other forms of sustainable development.

The other half of this important organization, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, works to distribute healthy and “culturally appropriate” foods to people all over the world who are food insecure. PHP raises awareness about how our everyday actions can have a global impact. According to the Hunger Program, once Americans feel connected with impoverished communities, they will begin to comprehend the causes of hunger and malnutrition.

Although the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Hunger Program are part of a religious organization, the group maintains that it will help all types of people. By working with other organizations like United Nations, National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster, World Food Program, Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure that those affected by catastrophe or hunger are reached.

– Mary Penn
Sources: InterAction, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Photo: Wired