We read news daily from international organizations addressing refugee situations around the world, appealing for help from the U.S. government and our citizens. It might come as a shock to American readers that one of the leading global organizations advocating for refugees, Refugees International (RI) has issued a field report on the United States and its response to the crisis in part of its territory — Puerto Rico.
The report, written by Alice Thomas, RI’s Climate Displacement Program Manager is entitled, “Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors in Puerto Rico”
In late November, Refugees International (RI) conducted a mission to Puerto Rico to assess the protection and assistance needs of the most vulnerable hurricane survivors. This was RI’s first mission within the United States in the organization’s 38-year history. Our goal was to provide insights and expertise based on RI’s long history of advocating for improvements in responses to international humanitarian crises and our experience in similar acute, sudden-onset, weather-related disasters in foreign countries, including island nations.
At the time of RI’s mission to Puerto Rico, more than two months after the storm hit, our team encountered a response by federal and Puerto Rican authorities that was still largely uncoordinated and poorly implemented and that was prolonging the humanitarian emergency on the ground. While food and bottled water are now widely available and hospitals and clinics back up and running, thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep. Moreover, Maria survivors are encountering enormous challenges navigating the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) bureaucratic and opaque assistance process and lack sufficient information on whether, when, and how they will be assisted.
The horrendous conditions that tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans - many of whom are poor and elderly - continue to endure require the Trump Administration and Congress to prioritize needs and corresponding response programs. FEMA and Puerto Rican authorities, with support from the highest levels of the U.S. federal government, must immediately adopt a more streamlined, coordinated, transparent, and effective strategy that includes, among other things, ensuring that survivors have access to safe and secure accommodations while longer-term recovery programs get up and running. In doing so, international best practices endorsed by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) and other international humanitarian agencies should be brought to bear both in Puerto Rico and in future U.S. disasters. In addition, affected populations must be provided with better and easier-to-comprehend information on FEMA’s assistance process. Grappling with questions around Puerto Rico’s medium- to longer-term recovery requires Congress’s and the Trump Administration’s focus and attention - but it will take time. In the meantime, we cannot leave our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico without adequate assistance and support.
Key in the report are the recommendations, which will require action by our elected officials. I suggest that you email and call your Congressional representatives, asking them if they have read the report (provide a link) what they think about the recommendations and how they plan to act on them. They all have staffers that take on these tasks — put them to work!
Read the full article here.