FEMA assistance for Puerto Rico
On Oct. 20, 2022, President Joe Biden increased FEMA assistance for Puerto Rico to accelerate recovery efforts after Hurricane Fiona. This amendment builds upon Biden’s major disaster declaration on Sep. 21, 2022, which authorized the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to lead recovery efforts in Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities. While the original declaration on Sep. 21 set the federal funding for emergency protective services at 75%, President Biden increased the share to 100%. The 100% share, which previously covered emergency costs for the first 30 days after Hurricane Fiona, will be extended to 60 days under the Oct. 20 amendment. These funds will go toward “debris removal and emergency protective measures” as well as “direct federal assistance” to aid in recovery efforts, according to The White House.

Ongoing Recovery Efforts After Hurricane Fiona

From Sep. 17 to Sep. 21, Hurricane Fiona destroyed homes and businesses across Puerto Rico, resulting in multiple fatalities. Puerto Rico’s Department of Health notes more than a dozen confirmed deaths related to Hurricane Fiona, from causes such as head trauma and drowning. When Hurricane Fiona reached Puerto Rico, many residents were still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria, which caused severe damage to the island just five years earlier.

Although the storm came to an end, more than 100,000 residents struggled without power even two weeks after the storm hit. LUMA Energy, the company in charge of Puerto Rico’s grid, restored power to 91% of its customers but faced difficulty reaching more remote areas. NPR reported that “nearly a third of customers in the western region of the island” had no electricity access as of Oct. 2.

The storm also destroyed bridges and vital transportation roads, preventing many emergency services from reaching more isolated regions. While government officials and local groups have successfully reached many of these areas, transportation concerns remain for the elderly, people with disabilities and people with preexisting health conditions.

FEMA’s Emergency Protective Services

FEMA has been working closely with the government of Puerto Rico to boost recovery efforts. In a Sep. 25 FEMA press release, Puerto Rico’s Governor Pedro Pierluisi stated: “We are committed to ensuring our people have access to essential services. We will continue working collaboratively with all our mayors so that full disaster assistance reaches the 78 municipalities.”

According to a FEMA report on Oct. 11, FEMA teams have registered more than 3,700 residents for FEMA’s Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA). DSA crews have “referred more than 2,600 individuals to voluntary agencies” to assist with medical care and transport, evacuation and shelter, home restoration and other relief services.

Because FEMA requests that survivors communicate their needs primarily through email, phone or the mobile app, FEMA aimed to provide internet connection and power in more isolated regions. For example, FEMA installed mobile satellite systems in mountainous regions to establish Wi-Fi hotspots. Once connected with FEMA, survivors can register for “federal disaster assistance.” After survivors apply for assistance, FEMA inspectors schedule an appointment to assess the damage.

Learning From the Past

FEMA’s efforts have already made a considerable impact on survivors of Hurricane Fiona. However, Puerto Rico has experienced difficulties initiating recovery projects through Public Assistance funds provided by FEMA. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that, in January 2021, FEMA pledged $23.8 billion through Public Assistance funds to help Puerto Rico recover from the effects of previous hurricanes and earthquakes as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the GAO reports that “because Public Assistance is a reimbursement program, Puerto Rico must provide the initial funding for projects and seek reimbursement afterward.” However, Puerto Rico’s financial difficulties posed barriers to accessing funding to begin the obligated recovery projects. As such, by May 2021, Puerto Rico had only spent $4.7 billion of the $23.8 billion. Additionally, Puerto Rico “only spent $158 million for long-term rebuilding projects, such as rebuilding schools, the power grid, water systems and other damaged infrastructure,” the GAO said.

The GAO recommends that FEMA identifies potential barriers to Puerto Rico’s recovery and takes action to address these risks as recovery efforts in Puerto Rico continue. With this feedback, FEMA can strengthen the recovery response in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. With Biden’s new funding plan, FEMA will be able to expand its territorial and local efforts on a larger scale.

– Anna Lee
Photo: Flickr

Switzerland’s Foreign Aid
The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) provides the basis of Switzerland’s foreign aid strategy. The country’s Foreign Policy Strategy 2020-23 focuses on building “peace and security, prosperity, sustainability and digitalization.”

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Switzerland’s foreign aid to Ukraine will double by the end of 2023 to $104 million. Switzerland’s support of Ukraine coincides with its foreign aid strategy to build peace and security for people around the world.

Peace and Security

According to a press release from January 2020, the FDFA approved Switzerland’s foreign aid strategy to construct a world safe for everyone to live in and prosper. “In the spirit of cooperation with other countries, Switzerland is committed to working towards a safe and peaceful world where everyone can live free from want and fear, have their human rights protected and enjoy economic prosperity,” FDFA stated on its website.

Accordingly, Switzerland’s candidacy on the U.N. Security Council in 2023-24 will advance Switzerland’s foreign aid globally but especially to Ukraine. Switzerland’s temporary seat will begin in January 2023 through December 2024 and during those two years, Switzerland will “intensify their work towards a peaceful international order,” according to the FDFA.

Foreign Aid to Ukraine

In July 2022, Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis announced that Switzerland’s foreign aid will double in Ukraine. He pledged approximately $104 million to Ukraine for reconstruction. According to Cassis, “Ukraine has to lead its reconstruction, but we have to support it,” Swissinfo reported.

Cassis also announced that Switzerland will continue to support organizations operating in Ukraine. He said that “Multilateral efforts are ‘an antidote to the use of force’.” However, Switzerland remains open to peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

Protection for Ukrainian Refugees

In March 2022, the Swiss government decided to grant protection to Ukrainian refugees. Protection will extend to any Ukrainian citizen or resident of Ukraine. It also includes people whom the Ukrainian government granted protection before February 2022.

This protection, or Permit S, is a temporary measure “to persons in need of protection as long as they are exposed to a serious general danger, in particular during a war or civil war as well as in situations of general violence” (Asylum Act §§ 4, 66, para. 2.). Permit S is valid for one year. However, it may extend to five years, depending on the length of the ongoing war.

The Bid to Seize Russian Assets

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the Swiss government to freeze their Russian oligarch’s assets. The U.S. House of Representatives urged President Joe Biden to use the funds from the Russian assets to support military and humanitarian aid.

Switzerland froze the Russian oligarch’s assets. However, it has yet to announce any intention to take control of the funds and use them for Switzerland’s foreign aid in Ukraine. Cassis said, “This is a global question and Switzerland will announce its position at the appropriate time.”

Switzerland has always valued peace and it strives to create a peaceful world. Its temporary seat on the U.N. Council could further implement its foreign aid policy to create a secure and safe world for all people to live in. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, Switzerland’s foreign aid strategy to support Ukraine provides hope for the Ukrainian citizens and the world that Switzerland’s value for peace will be one of their top priorities.

– Chris Karenbauer
Photo: Flickr

Build Back Better World Initiative
Congress has been negotiating the size and scope of a domestic infrastructure bill for most of Joe Biden’s presidency. Still, action is necessary to further infrastructure abroad. The U.S. and its allies in the G7 recognize this need and have launched the Build Back Better World Initiative (B3W) to address global infrastructure challenges. A closer look at the initiative provides insight into the state of infrastructure in low and middle-income countries around the world.

The Infrastructure Gap

Infrastructure connects people and goods, which allows economies to scale and grow. Forming highways, ports, bridges, railways, pipelines, sewage systems and more, infrastructure projects are vital for transport, communication, energy and health. Infrastructure projects are the foundation of economic development and are vital to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including universal access to water and electricity. 

Infrastructure projects are also important for developing nations because the projects can be a major source of employment, spurring economic growth and allowing workers to gain new skills. The White House currently estimates that the infrastructure needed in low and middle-income countries globally totals more than $40 trillion.

Infrastructure gaps are significant because the gaps hinder economic growth. According to World Bank research, “Every 10% increase in infrastructure provision increases [economic] output by approximately 1% in the long term.” In other words, spending on infrastructure grows an economy. Further, as environmental challenges continue to threaten nations around the world, the World Bank says that even small investments in climate-resilient infrastructure can save trillions of dollars in recovery efforts.

The Build Back Better World Initiative

Partnering with G7 nations, the U.S. launched the B3W to alleviate some of the problems associated with infrastructure gaps. The White House will look toward not only its allies but the private sector for hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for infrastructure investment. The administration says that it will leverage partnerships with the private sector because “status quo funding and financing approaches are inadequate” to meet the size of these challenges. 

The focus for projects is four distinct areas, including climate, health, digital technology and gender equity. The aim is to reach all around the world with different partners, but, USAID and other U.S. development groups will take leading roles. However, there is still an understanding that local needs will be a priority, as “infrastructure that is developed in partnership with those whom it benefits will last longer and generate more development impact.” 

The Biden administration has stressed the importance of good governance in foreign assistance and has already noted the importance of using B3W as a way to encourage full transparency with monitoring tools, common contracts and metrics for evaluation.

The Build Back Better World Initiative and US Interest

Foreign assistance supports U.S. strategic interests, which is why Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Daleep Singh has indicated support for the initiative. In recent years, especially when the U.S. has taken a step back from foreign affairs, China has accelerated spending on global infrastructure with the Belt and Road Initiative. 

However, Singh indicates that the point of the initiative is not to inflame hostilities or work as an anti-China group but rather to provide an alternative to Belt and Road financing. The goal is to “rally countries around a positive agenda that projects our shared values.” B3W supports U.S. interests by providing an alternative and showing that the U.S. is once again ready and willing to be a good partner for the world.

With Congress working on a domestic infrastructure package, it is important to not lose sight of the critical need for sustained and significant investment in infrastructure around the world. Infrastructure projects connect the world, making it safer and healthier. Funding infrastructure around the world as part of the Build Back Better World Initiative aligns with U.S. strategic interests. Hopefully, this initiative will encourage bridging gaps and becoming a more connected world.

– Alex Muckenfuss
Photo: Flickr

Plan for Haiti
On July 7, 2021, tragedy struck. Someone shot and killed Haitian president Jovenel Moïse at his private residence located in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. After the death of President Moïse, police murdered four suspects during a gun battle. Meanwhile, the authorities arrested the other two. With authorities in Haiti not identifying the suspects, natives have been on edge trying to put pieces of the puzzle together. This has led to questions regarding who the suspects are, why they committed the crime and what is the next plan for Haiti is.

The US’ Response to Assassination

Acknowledging the mishap, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, expressed that “Those responsible for this heinous act must be brought to justice. The United States echoes calls for calm, and we are committed to working together to support democracy, rule of law and peace in Haiti.” U.S. President Joe Biden gave his take on the situation, adding, “The people of Haiti deserve peace and security, and Haiti’s political leaders need to come together for the good of the country.” The Pentagon press secretary John Kirby reveals that the U.S. focuses on gaining an understanding of how to investigate this crime and attaching a criminal name to it.

President Biden’s Administration plans to send the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to Port-au-Prince to brainstorm ways the U.S. would support the Caribbean amid the chaos. The U.S. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced a delegation meeting with the Haitian government to discuss organizational structures to gain a better understanding and met with Haitian national police currently investigating Haitian President Moïse’s assassination.

Past US Involvement with Haiti

In the past, the U.S. has provided aid to Haiti. Looking back at Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, the U.S. offered humanitarian assistance, in other words, to promote human welfare. The priority areas of focus for the U.S. have been economic growth, poverty reduction, improved health care, food security, human rights, improved democratic institutions and building a more reliable Haitian National Police team. Economic growth became possible in Haiti; thanks to the U.S., there was an opening of 14,000 jobs in the apparel industry at the Caracol Industrial Park after the 2010 earthquake. Furthermore, 27,000 new jobs emerged in the year following Haiti’s natural disaster.

The employment rate increased through the work of Local Enterprise and Value Chain Enhancement, as well as Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments. Democratic Institutions were able to develop with the United States funding of a 10-megawatt power plant to provide 24-hour electricity to the Caracol Industrial Park and five collectives surrounding the park. They provided electricity to more than 14,000 households, businesses and government institutions.

Food Security in Haiti

Food security increased thanks to the U.S.; it helped 70,000 farmers increase crop yields. Haiti received assistance in part because the U.S. “introduced improved seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, and other technologies to more than 118,000 farmers through food security programs.” For human rights, the U.S. targeted The Haitian National Police. The U.S. assistance programs have impacted the HNP through an increase of 15,300 officers. Because of this change, more Haitians now have access to police officers; another advantage of the increase is the ability to evaluate police commissariats – also known as police stations in the United States.

In health care, the United States’ assistance has resulted in improvements in child nutrition and mortality, access to maternal health care and the control of HIV/AIDS. Former President Barack Obama’s Emergency Plans for Aids Relief involved U.S. government interventions contributing to the maintenance of HIV reduction, keeping it at 2% for a decade. To give a better perspective of what changes took place, the U.S. government placed 164 clinics across Haiti in August 2019. As a result, 73,000 children received vaccines, skilled professionals operated on 24,500 births and 40,000 women could access routine health care for pregnancy.

Plans for US Involvement in Haiti

With the U.S.’ ability to support Haiti in the past, there is no doubt a plan is in the works. Paski looks back at her trip to the nation, “This is just the beginning of our conversation. We will remain in close touch with law enforcement, with Haiti, about how we can assist and provide assistance moving forward.” Haiti has requested that the White House send troops to help stabilize the country. The Interim Claude Joseph iterates, “We definitely need assistance and we’ve asked our international partners to help.” As there is no president in power as of now due to the death of the Supreme Court President Rene Sylvestre from COVID-19, State Department Spokesman Ned Price has advised, “It is still the view of The United States that elections this year should proceed.”

With an international support system for Haiti after the death of President Jovenel Moise, a plan for the island to get back on track is in the works.

– Alexis Jones
Photo: Unsplash

COVID-19 Vaccinations in Africa
COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa account for only 2% of vaccinations the world administers. Meanwhile, other countries are close to vaccinating the majority of their populations. This is a glaring example of the dangerous vaccine inequity burdening developing countries. The United Nations Security Council recently called for accelerated availability of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. A statement that all 15 members endorsed emphasized the need for “equitable access” to quality, affordable COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. With wealthy nations buying a disproportionately large amount of the world’s vaccine supply, it is imperative that developing African countries receive the proper aid and resources to implement proper vaccination programs across the continent. That is where China comes in.

China’s Efforts

China has thus far set the precedent in the global response towards increasing COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa, pledging to provide vaccines to over 40 African countries. China has described its actions as purely altruistic. To back this up, China has either been donating or selling the vaccines at favorable prices. Foreign Ministry official Wu Peng told reporters that “We believe that it is, of course, necessary to ensure that the Chinese people get vaccinated as soon as possible, but for other countries in need, we also try our best to provide vaccine help.” So far, the Chinese efforts to counter vaccine inequity have been quite successful. China has already committed half a billion doses of vaccines to African countries. By engaging in “vaccine diplomacy,” China has been able to expand its influence in Africa through tactful, yet charitable actions.

However, Wu makes the important distinction that “Aid alone cannot solve Africa’s vaccine issues. We must support local manufacturing of vaccines in Africa, even though this is difficult due to (low) levels of industrialization.” While difficult, initiating the local manufacturing of vaccines will have monumentally positive effects in curbing the disease. Starting in June 2021, Egypt will be able to start locally producing China’s Sinovac vaccine. Sinovac has not only provided Egypt with advanced technical guidance in producing the vaccine, but also the rights to manufacture and pack the vaccine domestically. China hopes to replicate this in other African countries.

US-China Rivalry

Boasting claims of being able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses by the end of 2021, China will likely continue to lead the way in vaccinating a large portion of the world’s population. In light of China’s generous distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, many have criticized the U.S. for hoarding vaccines. In response to this, President Joe Biden has now pledged to donate an additional 20 million vaccine doses. Certainly, the continued proliferation of aid from wealthy nations will help to increase the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa. Developed nations cannot hoard vaccines or vaccine technology and expect the pandemic to end. The pandemic will not end until the current state of vaccine inequity disappears.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Dr. Angeli Achrekar
On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden appointed Dr. Angeli Achrekar as the new U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, which means she will be leading the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Who is Dr. Angeli Achrekar?

Dr. Achrekar is remarkably qualified for her position. She has earned her doctorate from UNC-Chapel Hill, a master’s degree from Yale and her bachelor’s degree from UCLA. In addition to her academic accomplishments, Dr. Achrekar has a career of public service under her belt, involving combating HIV/AIDS around the globe, public health development and women and girls’ health. She originally worked in India and with UNICEF. She then started working with the CDC starting in 2001, where she led the National Initiative to Improve Adolescent Health. This initiative spanned across multiple agencies and consisted of professionals from a variety of disciplines in more than 100 organizations.

Following her leadership of the National Initiative to Improve Adolescent Health, Dr. Achrekar started her work with PEPFAR to fight HIV/AIDS around the world in 2003. In working with PEPFAR, she traveled to South Africa. There, she coordinated with local governments to assess risk patterns that occur through drug use and among sex workers. Dr. Achrekar then became Senior Public Health Manager for the CDC in its Division of Global HIV/AIDS. Lastly, she started in 2011 with the U.S. State Department where she helped come up with and develop the Saving Mothers program, as well as the Giving Life program.

Developments Since Her Appointment

Since her appointment, Dr. Achrekar has already made strides in her position to fight AIDS and other diseases around the world. Notably, under her leadership, PEPFAR has been part of a joint effort with other organizations and agencies including USAID which will bring a new treatment to TB patients in Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Rather than patients needing to take a combination of drugs for treatment, the new treatment will combine two drugs so patients will be able to take fewer drugs in total. The new development is a big leap forward and Dr. Achrekar said, “The availability of a shorter, more easily tolerated, and safer regimen for TB prevention that is also affordable is critical for accelerating the fight against TB. The new development is big news as latent tuberculosis is said to affect up to a quarter of the world’s population.”

The Importance of Fighting AIDS in Relation to Global Poverty

PEPFAR’s work to fight AIDS holds much significance to the fight against global poverty because the two interconnect considerably. AIDS disproportionately affects those in poverty. Considering that the prevalence of AIDS has been commonly linked with poverty, a critical component of fighting the disease is fighting poverty. In his article “Is HIV/AIDS Epidemic Outcome of Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa?” Noel Dzimnenani Mbirimtengerenji wrote, “Unless and until poverty is reduced or alleviated, there will be little progress either with reducing transmission of the virus or an enhanced capacity to cope with its socio-economic consequences.”

Sean Kenney
Photo: Wikipedia Commons