Alice Thomas

Talk Media News: Unfazed by US boycott, 160+ countries back global migration compact

Some 164 countries signed on to a non-binding Global Compact for Migration this week, enshrining some commonly accepted migration policies that are likely to come in handy as ever greater numbers of people leave their home countries behind in search of a better life.

“What we ultimately got out of the text is a floor, not a ceiling.”

Alice Thomas is a program manager for Refugees International.

“It’s the first time you have in one document a 360-degree view of migration and a set of best practices for states working collaboratively to achieve safer, regular, orderly migration.”

Some of the compact’s 23 goals include ending “migration detention unless as a last resort,” eliminating discrimination against migrants and stopping the “allocation of public funding or material support to media outlets that systematically promote intolerance.”

While the compact is clearly and purposefully non-binding, the U.S. boycotted it anyway, and perhaps that’s no surprise. The U.S. has been widely criticized for detaining migrants (even going as far as to separate migrant children from their parents) and President Trump himself has repeatedly turned public sentiment against migrants, even peddling the debunked theory that they pose health risks to the U.S.

Non-binding or not, Thomas hopes one of the compact’s goals to collect more data on migration will ultimately help countries with good migration policy to stand out from the pack.

“To say that best practices are going to drive you to do something that’s going to call you out in some fashion – well yeah, maybe it’s going to mean that you’re not following the best practices for migration. But the whole idea that the international community needs to work together to try to deal with this phenomena.”

That cooperation is urgently needed. According to the U.N., the number of international migrants has increased from around 100 million people 30 years ago to more than 250 million now, and that trend shows little signs of stopping.

UN Dispatch Podcast: Global Compact for Migration, Explained

Over 180 countries are endorsing what is known as the Global Compact for Migration. The text of this non-binding agreement was finalized over the summer, and countries are meeting in Marrakech, Morocco on December 10th and 11th to formally launch the Compact.

There is a great deal of misinformation being spread, mostly by right wing governments in Europe in the US, about what this agreement entails.

This agreement is not a treaty. Rather, it is an agreed set of principles and creates a kind of platform for multilateral and bilateral cooperation around issues of international migration.

On the line to explain the Global Compact for Migration, better known around the UN as the “GCM” is Alice Thomas of Refugees International.  I caught up with Alice Thomas from Marrakech where she was participating in civil society forums around the Compact. We discuss both the content of the Compact and its potential impact on destination countries, origin countries and migrants themselves. We also discuss the impact of the non-participation of a few countries in this compact, including the United States and some countries in Europe.

If you have 20 minutes and want to a primer on the Global Compact For Migration, have a listen –>


NPR-All Things Considered: FEMA Blamed Delays In Puerto Rico On Maria; Agency Records Tell Another Story

A month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan stepped off a helicopter in the town of Ceiba with a mission: Get relief supplies to people in need.

He and FEMA's regional administrator, Thomas Von Essen, told the town's mayor and other mayors from across the island that generators, plastic roofs and tarps would be there within days.

"There are 50,000 more blue tarps coming in over the next week," Buchanan said. "So these will all get pushed to all the mayors."

Von Essen added that FEMA had as many as 500 generators on the island before the storm and would soon distribute them.

But today, it's clear none of those promises were kept, and FEMA and the federal government failed on multiple fronts to help the devastated island recover.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan (left) talks to a U.S. Army helicopter crew member in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico, after a supply delivery mission for residents affected by Hurricane Maria, Oct. 23, 2017.

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

NPR and the PBS series Frontline examined hundreds of pages of internal documents and emails. Rather than a well-orchestrated effort, they paint a picture of a relief agency in chaos, struggling with key contracts, basic supplies and even its own workforce.

Internal briefing documents show FEMA never had 500 generators on the island before the storm — it had 25. Its plastic roof program was out of plastic, and the most tarps FEMA ever produced was 125,000 — months after people needed them.

Hours after NPR and FRONTLINE published these findings, Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate introduced a bill to create an independent commission to investigate the "flawed" federal response in Puerto Rico. They noted the "botched FEMA contracts" in calling for the commission. The legislation also calls for an examination of the island's death toll, and whether Puerto Rico was treated differently than Texas and Florida were after hurricanes last year, as NPR and FRONTLINE found.

"It is heartbreaking to learn that the more we closely examine [Hurricane Maria's] aftermath, the clearer we see the federal government failed the people of Puerto Rico," said U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., in announcing the legislation, which was written by U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, D-N.Y.

FEMA's federal coordinating officer for Maria, Michael Byrne, said blame for any failures rests with the storm, not with federal responders contending with taxed resources and complicated geography.

"If there's a villain here, it's the 190 mph winds and the 50 inches of rain," Byrne said. "That's the villain. That's what did the damage to the people. We've done nothing but try to remedy that."

Still, as NPR and Frontline traveled the island in the months after the storm, it was clear many of the problems were man-made.

In Luquillo, Mayor Jesus Rodriguez said he had been waiting more than two months for FEMA to provide just seven generators that would power the town's water pumps. He said he couldn't understand what could hold up such a critical request in a town that had no running water.

"Water is life," he said, frustrated.

In Piñones, William Torruella, a pastor, and his congregation spent weeks gathering supplies on their own to deliver to nearby towns. He said when FEMA arrived in Morovis, two months after the storm, he asked what had taken so long. Officials told him the roads to the town had been closed.

"They were not closed," Torruella said, shaking his head. "I've been going there. The excuses do not explain what's happening."

Even an international disaster worker checking on survivors in Yabucoa in January was confused by the delays.

"We were pretty surprised to see how slow the response was [in Puerto Rico]," said Alice Thomas, a program manager with Refugees International, who has been to more than a dozen disasters. "Compared especially to major emergencies I've seen in foreign countries," she said. "And we couldn't get over particularly how bad the shelter response was."

The seemingly simple process of distributing tarps to storm victims illustrates the problem. Thomas said storm victims need tarps in the first week or two if they hope to save their homes.

"Why they couldn't get tarps, I do not know," she said, adding that federal officials working on the ground called the tarp delays a "mystery."

When asked what accounted for the delays, FEMA's Byrne said it was difficult to get supplies to Puerto Rico because it's an island.

"We had problems getting everything," he said. "When you have to ship it, you have to add seven days or sometimes longer to everything that you want to bring in. It's definitely a challenge."

Yet 20 years ago, after Hurricane Georges hit the island, there weren't reports of these logistical problems.

Contractors apply a FEMA tarp to a home in Morovis on Dec. 20, 2017, three months after it was damaged by Hurricane Maria. The day Maria hit, FEMA had fewer than 12,000 tarps on the island, far below what was needed.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

And the agency's own records reflect a different picture.

According to planning and briefing documents, the agency did not pre-position enough supplies on the island before the storm, as federal rules require. The day Maria hit, agency records show, FEMA had fewer than 12,000 tarps on the island. Then, the agency failed to acquire more.

First, records show, FEMA hired a company that was just two months old. It didn't provide a single tarp. Then FEMA chose a company whose last contract had been for $4,000 worth of kitchen utensils for a prison. It didn't produce a single tarp either.

Finally, FEMA turned to a third company, called Master Group. Its specialty, according to its website, is importing hookah tobacco. It produced some tarps, but when employees examined them in a warehouse in January, FEMA says, the tarps failed a quality-control inspection.

Import records examined by NPR and Frontline show the company brought the tarps in from China, which violates federal contracting rules. After NPR and Frontline questioned FEMA about this, the agency suspended the company.

FEMA was also struggling with contracts to deliver food, diesel fuel and other supplies.

Byrne said these were just a few troubled contracts out of more than 2,000 that did not have problems.

"We had a couple of ones that didn't work out well and we dealt with it," Byrne said. "I continue [to] focus on getting it solved."

Behind the scenes, though, some federal workers were discouraged. In one email, a top Army Corps official complained to FEMA managers, "We cannot survive any longer with any delay of materials," the engineer wrote. "I cannot keep saying we are trying. ... I need solutions."

A car battery connected to an inverter and a generator provides power for a street party on a block without electricity on Dec. 24, 2017.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Army Corps' plastic roof program, known as blue roofs, provides stronger roof sheeting tied down to houses. Without tarps, it became even more critical.

But FEMA didn't have enough plastic sheeting on the island. In the first month after Hurricane Irma in Florida, records show, the Army Corps put up 4,500 blue roofs. In Puerto Rico, just 439.

"It goes back to how much material do you have?" said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who oversees the Army Corps. "Almost all the warehouses were empty. So when we hit, the amount of available supplies, either generators, blue roof material, whatever it might be, were just not there ... that could have gotten us more of a jump-start."

When it came to getting the lights on, federal officials chose a contractor named Fluor — a company with global experience building power generation plants but little experience rebuilding the grids that distribute power to communities. Government sources said they went with Fluor because it was a company they trusted, but they also described weeks of bureaucratic delays as the company got up to speed.

But that wasn't all that was causing FEMA headaches. FEMA was struggling with its own staff. One internal staffing document reveals that more than a quarter of the staff FEMA hired to provide people assistance on the island was "untrained" and another quarter was "unqualified."

Byrne bristles at the suggestion that FEMA didn't help people.

"I think we've done a lot of support," he said. "How can you look at the fact that we gave a billion dollars in assistance out, that we've given out 62 million liters of water, 52 million meals to the people. How can you categorize that as not providing assistance? I find that that doesn't connect."

Oscar Carrión taught himself how to string up electrical wire and restored power to thousands in his town.

Still, he said FEMA will learn from its mistakes. There were "a number of places where we weren't perfect," he said. "I'll accept that. I'm going to keep working to get better."

Four months after the storm, in a small neighborhood near San Juan called Villa Hugo, local resident Oscar Carrión wasn't waiting for help.

He had taken it upon himself to turn the lights on and had already restored power to 3,000 neighbors.

"I'm afraid of heights and of the electrical current," he said in Spanish. "The first time I got up there, I was trembling all over. I still tremble."

Carrión owns a grocery and has four kids. He has no experience working on power poles and doesn't own any safety equipment. He and his neighbors pooled together $2,500 to buy an old rusted bucket truck.

On this day, the neighbors unwound wire along the street and Carrión worked pole to pole.

"I guess I am taking a risk," he said, "but it's difficult to live in the dark. We were tired of hearing that they can't get to us. So we've decided to move forward on our own."

As he got back into the truck, he paused for a minute and said, "If we don't do it, nobody will do it for us."

Huffington Post: Harvard Study On Puerto Rico Is Devastating For More Reasons Than The Alarmingly High Death Toll

Puerto Rico’s death toll in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is estimated to be almost 5,000, according to a Harvard study published Tuesday. Data from this large-scale survey also revealed some sobering information about what life has been like for those trying to manage their health on the island in the wake of the storm. 

The study, which surveyed 3,299 randomly chosen households in Puerto Rico over three weeks, found that from Sept. 20 to Dec. 31, 2017, at least 4,645 people died in connection to the storm. The government’s death toll is 64. 

Dr. Satchit Balsari, one of the researchers for the study, explained the importance of having an accurate death count not only because of its financial ramifications but also because it gives families a sense of closure. “It’s important to acknowledge what happened and why they lost their family members,” he told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. 

Researchers calculated this new alarmingly high death toll and gathered facts about causes of death, displacement and infrastructure loss in the months after the storm. The information paints a distressing picture of the sort of challenges that millions of Puerto Ricans faced after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September of last year. 

The study’s numbers aligned with previous media reports and analyses that the death toll was likely in the thousands. The researchers’ findings are dismaying but, unfortunately, are surprising only in their magnitude. 

The aftermath of the storm was deadlier than its landfall 

The survey found that the significant increase in deaths in the months after Hurricane Maria was mainly a result of interruption of medical care, with about one-third of households reporting such issues — including accessing medications (14.4 percent), being unable to use respiratory equipment because of a lack of electricity (9.5 percent), having no open medical facilities nearby (8.6 percent) or having no doctors at medical facilities (6.1 percent).

Nearly 9 percent of households in remote areas said they were unable to reach 911 services by phone. 

Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University in New York, said he knows the numerous health struggles people face after a disaster.

“I think people gravitate towards how many people were killed immediately from drowning or falling debris,” he said. “But the reality is, the much, much bigger problem is the long-term inability to get to medical care or the inability to get the medical devices or medication that people need to survive — so, people who are dependent on electrical-powered medical devices like ventilators or who need their medication every single day so their diabetes or high blood pressure doesn’t get out of control.”

The average household went over 2 months without power and water

After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s decades-old power grid was devastated, leaving millions of residents in the dark. For months, access to drinking water and plumbing was compromised by a lack of electricity ― conditions that prompted health concerns over bacterial disease outbreaks, among other fears.

A lack of power can be dangerous for people with chronic conditions who rely on electrically powered medical devices or must have a functioning refrigerator to store medicines such as insulin. 

And the Harvard study found that, on average, households went 84 days without electricity and 68 days without water. Many respondents were still without power at the time the survey was conducted, from Jan. 17 to Feb. 24 this year.

Older Puerto Ricans stayed behind while young adults left their homes

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, a historic number of Puerto Ricans have migrated to the mainland to escape deteriorating economic and day-to-day conditions on the island. The Harvard study found that 2.8 percent of sampled households’ residents were reported to no longer live there. The majority moved elsewhere on the island, and 41 percent went to the mainland. 

The median age of those who left their households and did not return or were missing was 25. Those who stayed in the household or died had a median age of 50.  

Alice Thomas, a climate displacement program manager for Refugees International, said the organization witnessed these patterns while visiting the island four months and six months after the hurricane hit.  

“It was very obvious from what we saw on the ground that the people who were being left behind were mainly the elderly,” she said. “We visited a number of households in different parts of the island, both remote and close to San Juan, where it was essentially older people living in a house that didn’t have electricity [or] potable water.”

Older people are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions, which often require regular management and may limit their mobility and ability to migrate or travel long distances for treatment. 

“There were people who had chronic illnesses — including Alzheimer’s, hypertension, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s ― and they were living traumatized by the storm itself,” Thomas added. 

She said her group’s workers met many people who were poor and did not have health insurance to help pay for what few resources were available.

People gravitate towards how many people were killed immediately from drowning or falling debris. But the reality is the much, much bigger problem is the long-term inability to get to medical care.” Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University

The study likely included a dramatic undercount of suicides 

As it stands, data from the study included only one suicide. The number linked to Hurricane Maria is likely much higher, since the government’s count includes at least four suicides and separate figures from the government have shown a spike in suicides in the aftermath of the storm.  

Balsari said the team on the ground consisted entirely of psychology students who had been working on mental health outreach in these communities for a while. 

“They did find that the prolonged suffering, interruption in their utility services for several months and the interruption in medical care was taking a toll on a higher burden of mental health morbidity,” he said. 

Dr. Rafael Irizarry, another researcher in the study, chimed in to say he suspected that if the study’s sample size had been larger, they would have seen more suicides. 

The death toll estimate is conservative and likely much higher 

Researchers said their estimate of additional deaths from Maria is probably an undercount. “The death rate appears to be constant after September all the way up to December,” Irizarry said in the conference call. “There’s no reason for us to believe that all of a sudden that trailed down after January.”

Eight months after the storm, many Puerto Ricans are still without power or reliable access to health care ― a deadly combination for those who remain on the island, particularly in the face of the 2018 hurricane season, which begins Friday. 

“This is not the end of the story,” Redlener said. “I think there’s every reason to worry that the numbers will climb significantly higher because there are still people without access to the health care they need.” 

This piece originally appeared here

Financial Times: After Maria, Thousands on Puerto Rico Waited Months for a Plastic Roof

For 25 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has installed temporary plastic roofs on storm victims’ homes after disasters, part of a key emergency response program called “Operation: Blue Roof.”

But in the wake of the most destructive storm season on record, that system broke down. After Hurricane Maria, the blue roof program was riddled with problems, an investigation by FRONTLINE and NPR found, causing delays that left tens of thousands of Puerto Rican homes vulnerable to the elements for months. While the Army Corps provided thousands of blue roofs in the immediate aftermath of storms like Irma and Katrina, in the first 30 days after Maria, it finished just 439 — less than 1 percent of the total needed. Even three months after the storm, only half of the number of blue roofs needed were up in Puerto Rico.

Internal government documents and interviews with officials in the Army Corps, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, disaster experts and contractors in Puerto Rico illustrate that behind the slow pace of the Puerto Rico program were two key issues: shortages of essential supplies and bureaucratic problems with contracting. Together, these lapses reveal a fundamental lack of preparation for an event the size and scope of Hurricane Maria, according to disaster experts who spoke to FRONTLINE and NPR for the documentary Blackout in Puerto Rico.

“Homes that were salvageable are ruined now. They’re beyond repair,” said Alice Thomas, a disaster response expert with Refugees International, which looked into the delays in temporary shelter programs in Puerto Rico. “It’s an emergency. You need a roof over your head, and you need it now.”

Slower that Katrina

By almost any measure, Hurricane Maria was an unprecedented storm. But the Army Corps had vast experience installing temporary roofs after other devastating disasters, where it had met the demands for blue roofs at a far faster clip.

After Hurricane Katrina – the Corps’ largest blue roof mission ever – the agency was able to install 107,344 in 100 days. After Maria, it installed just 30,000 blue roofs in the first 100 days, half of what was needed.

The Corps had even performed better in Puerto Rico. After the island’s last major hurricane, Georges, in 1998, the Corps and its 44 contractors completed approximately 30,000 roofs within 37 days of the storm.

Even during the 2017 storm season, the Army Corps program in Florida after Irma was 10 times faster in the first 30 days, where it installed more than 4,500 blue roofs.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, head of the Army Corps, told FRONTLINE and NPR that the program, which the Corps runs on behalf of FEMA, went as fast as it could given the historic challenges that existed after Maria, but acknowledged that the agency should move faster and rethink it’s planning.

“There’s always going to be some degree of a delay. The question is, how can we speed it up, to have quicker roofs and more roofs put into the first couple months?” Semonite said. “We want to be faster … But there’s some mechanics of a storm. Mother Nature gets a vote here. In Puerto Rico, Mother Nature got a big, big vote.”

Lack of Supplies

However, the initial delays after Maria weren’t caused solely by the storm, but also from a lack of supplies.

It would take two weeks from the day Maria hit before a single blue roof was completed in Puerto Rico. That’s because, according to internal FEMA documents, when Maria made landfall on Sept. 20, FEMA had none of the sturdy tarp material it needed on the island.

“Almost all the warehouses were empty. So when we hit, the amount of available supplies … blue roof material, whatever it might be, were just not there to be able to respond in an effort that would have probably been something that could have got us more of a jump start,” Semonite said.

He added that the sheeting material in Puerto Rico had just been moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma, which hit the archipelago hard. As a result, documents show, the first shipment of plastic sheeting, 1,200 rolls, didn’t arrive in Puerto Rico until Oct. 3.

Even then, there were further delays. A week after sheeting first arrived on the island, FEMA awarded a $9.2 million contract for additional plastic sheeting to a Florida-based company called Bronze Star, which had no disaster experience and had only formed that August. A month later, FEMA cancelled the contract after the company failed to deliver any sheeting, forcing the agency to scramble in search of a new supplier.

A Slow Ramp Up

As sheeting trickled in, the Corps came up against new hurdles with the firm it had contracted with to help build the roofs themselves.

Before Maria, it had lined up an advance contract with a disaster recovery firm called Ceres Environmental Services Inc. As part of its contract, the Minnesota-based company was required to be ready to deploy to Puerto Rico to install blue roofs in the event of a disaster. These kinds of contracts were a key requirement of the 2006 Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, which attempted to address the failures of coordination and preparation that led to the bungled federal response after Katrina.

Ceres had years of experience with blue roofs, including in Puerto Rico, where it was one of the contractors on the ground after Hurricane Georges in 1998. But after Maria, federal data show that Ceres did not meet its initial contract requirements.

Ceres began installing blue roofs in Puerto Rico on Oct. 4, and according to contracting documents, was given 10 days to ramp up to a minimum of 200 blue roof installations a day. By Oct. 13, Ceres was supposed to put up at least 120 roofs a day. That day it only managed 90, leading the Army Corps to warn Ceres it would face penalties if it did not improve its performance. The company submitted a plan to fix its installation rate.

Ceres officials declined to be interviewed, but in a response to written questions said that, “despite the destruction to roofs and the infrastructure affecting the speed of the recovery, Ceres still met or exceeded its contract requirements.” The Army Corps never sought damages for its initial failure to meet the installation rate.

Ceres said the sheer devastation of the storm made travel in the immediate aftermath difficult. It also said that part of the early challenges were due to a change in the scope of work for the blue roof program in Puerto Rico. In most storms, severely damaged homes cannot have a blue roof. But because Maria was so destructive, FEMA changed the rules to include severely damaged properties. The result, Ceres wrote, was that “these severely damaged roofs required up to four times the crew hours to complete.”

But several former workers for Ceres said delays were also exacerbated by the company’s struggles to retain workers hired by local subcontractors in Puerto Rico.

One of those former subcontractors, Ponce-based Venegas Construction, worked for Ceres for about a week before quitting. Emilio R. Venegas, vice president of the firm, said Ceres provided limited training and paid subcontractors a rate that barely covered costs.

Ceres Environmental disputed Venegas’ characterization of its training program, saying its subcontractors were, “supported by our Management Team with experience from other Corps blue roof contracts.” It added that, “Ceres contractors were paid commensurate with the rates received by Ceres to install the roofs.”

By Oct. 19, Ceres was producing the required 200 roofs a day, but even at the pace spelled out in its contract, it would take nearly a year for them to finish the roughly 60,000 roofs needed on Puerto Rico. Things were improving, but not fast enough to meet demand. The program needed more workers.

Semonite said the Army Corps is deciding whether to make changes to its contracting practices going forward.

“We’re looking at this really hard to say, ‘Is there a way we can incentivize our contractor in the next storm?’” he said. “We work for FEMA, so this is a partnership … We’re in those dialogues right now, so if a contractor hits the ground, how can we get the curve of implementation much, much quicker?”

FEMA’s top official in Puerto Rico, Mike Byrne, acknowledged in an interview with FRONTLINE and NPR that there had been “challenges” with the program and said the agency will evaluate its performance after the recovery.

“We had issues with some of the labor that they were doing,” Byrne said. “We had issues about the challenge of getting materials into some of these remote areas. All of this made it a challenge. But again, the important thing to realize is we were doing, and we were executing to the maximum that we were capable in terms of the resources that we had available to do that.”

Local Bidders

The Army Corps would eventually get more workers – but the process would take months, thanks in part to a dispute over government contracts that resulted in a temporary work stoppage.

After Hurricane Georges, the Corps had 44 contractors on the ground within weeks. After Maria, it had one and then took more than six weeks to open up a $93 million bid for two additional local contractors to help with the blue roof program.

Those contracts were targeted at local companies as part of efforts to reinvigorate the economy in areas impacted by the storm.

On Nov. 21, the Corps awarded the contracts to two bidders: a Puerto Rican firm called Power & Instrumentation Services, and another company called Ceres Caribe Inc. The Army Corps said that adding these two companies would “bring our capability up to around 1,000 roofs a day.” By this point, Ceres Environmental was putting up 400 roofs a day, bringing its total number of installations to about 11,000.

Venegas said that when he saw the award, he was puzzled. He had never heard of Ceres Caribe, but was struck by the name’s similarity to Ceres Environmental from Minnesota.

He pulled the company’s registration documents and found that Ceres Caribe was first registered in Puerto Rico in 1999. The documents listed its founder as David McIntyre, the founder of Ceres Environmental.

The federal contracting database shows that Ceres Caribe won at least 15 federal contracts between 2004 and 2009 worth more than $42 million for various construction jobs. But by 2011, the company’s annual report showed that it had no income or assets. In 2013 and 2014, Ceres Caribe failed to file annual reports or pay dues to the government, triggering warnings from the Puerto Rican State Department and a subsequent suspension of its registration. The company, Venegas found, had only renewed its registration three days after the Corps opened up the bidding process. According to registration documents, McIntyre is still the director and president.

“The bid was set aside for local companies. We thought that perhaps somebody in the Corps had made a mistake, and we submitted a protest to let them know about our opinion,” Venegas said.

Another Puerto Rican company, RBC Construction Corp., also protested. In response, the Army Corps temporarily halted the two contracts, but Ceres Environmental, the company with the original contract, kept working.

McIntyre was not available for an interview, but Rick Good, senior project manager for Ceres Caribe, said the company was, “a standalone corporation,” with separate management from Ceres Environmental, but that the two were owned by McIntyre. He said the company’s work after Maria was “of the highest quality” and that 90 percent of those employed on the project were locals.

The Army Corps said Ceres Caribe was evaluated as a separate company because as “a subsidiary of Ceres Environmental, they are considered two legally independent companies.” The Corps called the company’s bid proposal “one of two that were the best value to the Government.”

Ceres Environmental wrote that the new contract “was properly awarded.” It added, “Ceres Caribe, Inc. has over the years contributed greatly to the local economy and provided employment and training to Puerto Rican and other employees.”

Venegas said the Corps encouraged him to drop his protest in exchange for a contract of his own. He said he agreed. The Corps said his award came after “the number of roof requests increased.”

The protest from RBC Construction was dismissed on technical grounds. With the contracting dispute over, the Corps ended the work stoppage after eight days.

The additional workers helped. By Dec. 30, the Army Corps had put on 30,000 temporary roofs. Five days later, it reached its goal of 1,000 roofs a day.

By then, the program had helped just half of those approved for a temporary roof  –something Hector Pesquera, Puerto Rico’s secretary for public safety and the commonwealth’s point person for the emergency response after Maria, noted critically in an internal report prepared for the governor.

The report said that the problems in the program stemmed from “bureaucratic delays associated with mobilizing personnel, a lack of pre-planning for this type of mission in Puerto Rico and the intricacies and unacceptable timelines associated with federal procurement actions.”

“The people of Puerto Rico deserve to have services established as fast as possible,” said Semonite. “I think we need to look as a country, what kind of response do we need to give in remote areas, and if we … need to put a lot more capability pre-storm, this is going to come at a cost.”

Just about six months to the day that Maria hit, the contractors working for the Corps finished the final blue roof in Puerto Rico – number 59,469. And now, more than seven months after Maria, thousands are still waiting for permanent repairs.

This piece originally appeared here

Scientific American: Wave of Climate Migration Looms, but It “Doesn't Have to Be a Crisis”

As the sea creeps steadily inland in countries such as Bangladesh, and as dwindling rains put already marginal farmland out of play in Ethiopia and other places, a wave of migration triggered by a changing climate is taking shape on the horizon.

But most “climate migrants” will not be heading abroad to start new lives; instead they will settle elsewhere in their home countries. A new World Bank report released this week declares that if nothing is done to curb global warming and factor migration into development planning, by mid-century this internal population shift could involve more than 140 million people in three regions examined: sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America. “Climate change is already a driver of internal migration, and it will become more so in the future,” says John Roome, senior director for climate change at The World Bank Group.

The potential for such a surge in areas comprising 55 percent of the developing world’s population raises questions of environmental justice because those who have contributed least to global warming are forced to shoulder most of the burden. It is incumbent on developed countries like the U.S. to step up, says María Cristina García, a professor of American Studies at Cornell University who was not involved in the report. Developed countries can help by both working to limit greenhouse gas emissions and funding efforts to help developing nations plan for climate migration challenges, García says.

Some people will need to migrate despite any measures that might be taken—but “this doesn’t have to be a crisis,” Roome says. Properly managed migration could even bring more economic opportunities to some poor communities, the World Bank report’s authors contend. But planning needs to start now.

“Those People Do Not Get Counted”

The study of climate migration is still relatively new, and projections of just how many people might be driven from their homes as the world warms are hard to pin down. Predictions of climate change impacts carry an inherent uncertainty, and the reasons people decide to migrate—or are forced to—are often complex.

To get a clearer picture of how this story might unfold, the authors of the report modeled how slow-burn climate effects (such as coastal land lost to sea level rise, along with water scarcity and crop failure caused by changing rainfall and higher temperatures) affected population patterns in the three regions covered by the report. They focused on internal migration because most people pushed from home—whether for economic, climate-related or other reasons—are displaced within their own countries.

The models looked at how populations might shift in the future if greenhouse gas emissions abate, and compared that scenario with what could happen if emissions continue on their current trajectory. The models also incorporated instances in which development planning alleviated economic inequality—and when that equality gap widened. When emissions were left to soar and development was left unequal, internal migration registered highest: an estimated 86 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million in south Asia and 17 million in Latin America by 2050. But tackling either issue substantially reduced migration numbers to as few as 31 million across all three regions.

Migration “hot spots”—places people are likely to leave, as well as their probable destinations—emerged in each region. “The impact of climate on migration is not uniform across countries or even within countries,” Roome says. For example, people may increasingly leave Ethiopia’s northern highlands, where agriculture depends on seasonal rains that are now unreliable. Others are likely to flee coastal areas in Bangladesh, where saltwater infiltrating the drinking supplies of 20 million people may already be causing an increase in diarrheal diseases. The report also found climate change could cause people to leave urban centers that have long attracted migrants drawn to the promise of better-paying jobs. Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, a sprawling city of more than 17 million people, is threatened by sea level rise and ever-higher storm surges; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital of three million, could see increasingly unreliable rains and thus an unstable water supply.

The report’s overall findings are no surprise for researchers who have studied climate migration over the last decade or so, says García, who is writing a book on climate migration. Overall migration is usually associated with refugees fleeing to other countries in times of war or other crises, with the U.N. and other agencies keeping track of those pushed outside their own borders. But internal migration is less thoroughly tracked. “We just don’t have a lot of hard data” on it, says Alice Thomas, climate displacement program manager at the nonprofit Refugees International. “Often it just happens kind of slowly over time, and those people do not get counted.

Who Bears the Brunt?

The report’s authors caution that it is not meant to be a precise forecast, but rather a guide to what might happen and an aid to planning for a potential upheaval. This kind of modeling is useful “not because any one scenario is going to give us the answer” but because it illuminates the various forces influencing migration, says report co-author Alex De Sherbinin, deputy manager of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center at Columbia University.

“It’s really about taking a longer-term view of the issue,” says report co-author Kanta Kumari Rigaud, a lead environmental specialist with the World Bank. For example, Kumari says countries can foster industries that are less subject to climate fluctuations in order to help communities adapt and prevent the need for people to leave. Ethiopia has done this, the report notes, by pushing to diversify its economy—three quarters of its population currently depends on agriculture but the government, with help from the World Bank, has implemented more sustainable land management.

Various efforts to bolster the economy and reduce poverty have led to a $50-billion gain in gross domestic product over the last decade as well as higher school enrollment and improved sanitation. Governments can also step in earlier to provide support when population movements will eventually become unavoidable, the report suggests, instead of waiting until families have exhausted all their resources battling drought or rising seas. Social services could help line people up with jobs in more climatically stable areas, for example. This could raise the economic prospects for families and countries as a whole. “When it’s planned, it should be a win–win situation for everybody,” Thomas says.

Of course, this kind of planning requires a dedicated effort—one that even developed nations like the U.S. have struggled to implement. Thomas notes thousands of people left Puerto Rico for the mainland after Hurricane Maria last fall, largely because they had so little support on the ground. “Even in wealthy countries we don’t have the right laws and policies in place,” Thomas says. “Those measures will take a long time to put in place.”

But it is poorer countries “that are paying the price and have the populations that are being forced to suffer the most,” Thomas says. The U.S. and other wealthier nations have nominally committed to efforts, including the Green Climate Fund, to help developing countries study and plan for climate impacts. But many of the wealthier players have yet to fulfill their promises; the U.S., under the administration of Pres. Donald Trump, has balked at providing more money for such programs.

Even if seriously concerted efforts are made to lower carbon dioxide emissions and promote more equitable development, millions will still be displaced because of the inevitable warming that is already baked in. The authors and other experts hope the new report will help spur action and research into the problem. “Hopefully,” Roome says, “this report can raise awareness of the issue and create a little bit of this political will.”

This piece originally appeared here

The Submarine: Tutti i migranti dell’Africa subsahariana sono rifugiati climatici

La definizione di “migrante climatico” è molto complessa. Gli eventi causati dalla crescente variabilità climatica sono così vari e imprevedibili che definire chi sia un migrante climatico è difficile, o forse impossibile.

Esistono i casi di migranti climatici in senso stretto, come gli agricoltori che devono spostarsi di fronte all’avanzata del deserto, ma ricadono in questa definizione anche persone che fuggono da conflitti o instabilità provocati dalla mancanza di risorse direttamente causata dal cambiamento climatico, o chi deve spostarsi in seguito a catastrofi imprevedibili.

Lo IOM (Organizzazione mondiale per le migrazioni) prova a definire il fenomeno come “persone o gruppi di persone che, principalmente perché colpiti negativamente dal cambiamento, improvviso o progressivo, nell’ambiente, sono costrette a abbandonare le proprie case, o scelgono di farlo, temporaneamente o permanentemente, e che si spostano all’interno del proprio paese o all’estero.” (Glossary on Migration, International Migration Law, no. 25, 2nd Edition, IOM, Ginevra, 2011, p. 33). Si tratta insomma, di una migrazione forzata che riguarda molte piú persone di quante in genere si pensi.

Il legame tra instabilità geopolitica e cambiamento climatico è forte quanto invisibile, e ignorato da una fetta di politici ancora piú ampia di chi già nega il cambiamento climatico.

È il caso dei migranti provenienti da vari paesi del Sahel, a sud del deserto del Sahara,  che vengono puntualmente considerati dall’Unione Europea come “migranti economici,” e che la nostra politica usa volentieri come punching ball di retorica razzista e retrograda. Sono paesi come il Senegal, l’Algeria, la Nigeria e l’Eritrea — tra gli altri. Tutti i paesi della fascia del Sahel sono considerati dallaBanca mondiale come fragili — a causa di alti livelli di povertà, conflitti costanti, e governi tradizionalmente debolissimi. Secondo i dati raccolti lo scorso anno dall’OCHA, il 60% della popolazione della regione — 150 milioni di persone — è impiegata nell’agricoltura pluviale.

Catalogare persone che si vedono costrette a migrare di fronte a una desertificazione che avanza di vari chilometri l’anno è una lettura iperpoliticizzata di un problema da cui non si può scappare.

La migrazione, ovviamente, non è diretta, e sono tantissimi i fattori che offuscano il rapporto di concausa. Sara Vigil scrive, per “Out of Africa: Why People Migrate” (LediPublishing, ISPI, Milano, 2017) che “molteplici studi hanno sottolineato come nei periodi di siccità i fenomeni migratori diminuiscono. Questo è perché le persone usano le proprie ultime risorse per i bisogni primari (come il cibo), e non hanno quindi le risorse per imbarcarsi in viaggi piú lunghi.”

Le politiche che mirano a tenere il problema dei rifugiati fuori dal blocco europeo sono scandalosamente miopi. Spostare le cause della migrazione, anche quelle considerate strettamente politiche o economiche, nel contesto del cambiamento climatico rivela un’evidenza innegabile: che le grandi migrazioni dall’Africa subsahariana sono appena iniziate. La proiezione piú citata è quella firmata da Norman Myers, che calcola 200 milioni di persone costrette ad abbandonare la propria casa entro il 2050. Secondo dati raccolti da diverse organizzazioni umanitarie che operano nella zona, il 30% degli abitanti della zona del Sahel del Burkina Faso hanno dovuto migrare negli ultimi vent’anni.

Malgrado queste condizioni di totale costrizione, i migranti saheliani non sono considerati tecnicamente rifugiati. Questo principalmente perché lo status di rifugiato riservato esclusivamente a chi si muove costretto da persecuzioni, è descritto da un documento molto datato, definito nel 1951 — anche se nel contesto politico mondiale contemporaneo i suoi contenuti sono di un’ambizione umanitaria sempre piú lontana alle sensibilità attuali, quasi un relitto di un momento di maggiore civiltà.

Ci sono voci che sostengono che le vittime del cambiamento climatico dovrebbero rientrare in questa definizione. È l’opinione, tra gli altri, anche di Alice Thomas, manager del programma di migrazioni climatica di Refugees International. “Per i poveri saheliani che devono ‘andarsene o morire qui’ — come una donna ha descritto il suo dilemma — leggi e politiche offrono protezione limitatissima, e pochissime soluzioni sul lungo termine,” dice Thomas.

For the full article, click here. 

Daily Kos: Despite many people who still need assistance, FEMA plans to end food and water aid to Puerto Rico

The end of 2017 saw multiple natural disasters hit the United States simultaneously. Wildfires and mudslides in California and deadly hurricanes which hit Southern states and the Caribbean. Federal disaster response and recovery has likely been stretched beyond budget and capacity. Perhaps this is one reason why that FEMA has decided to end food and water aid in Puerto Rico beginning on Wednesday. This would be a mistake. While Puerto Rico is not in the same state that it was in the few days and weeks post Hurricane Maria, there are plenty of residents across the island which still need assistance.

However, according to FEMA, those needs can be met without government assistance. 

In a sign that FEMA believes the immediate humanitarian emergency has subsided, on Jan. 31 it will, in its own words, "officially shut off" the mission it says has provided more than 30 million gallons of potable water and nearly 60 million meals across the island in the four months since the hurricane. The agency will turn its remaining food and water supplies over to the Puerto Rican government to finish distributing.

Some on the island believe it's too soon to end these deliveries given that a third of residents still lack electricity and, in some places, running water, but FEMA says its internal analytics suggest only about 1 percent of islanders still need emergency food and water. The agency believes that is a small enough number for the Puerto Rican government and nonprofit groups to handle.

Let’s revisit what happened immediately following Maria and how the federal response to the hurricane was abysmal. It took 5 days after the hurricane hit the island before any senior federal official came to visit. It was 10 days before 4,500 troops arrived. Numerous FEMA workers that were on the island did not speak Spanish. We all saw Trump’s visit and, how after throwing paper towels at hurricane survivors, he proclaimed that the response was “excellent.” Meanwhile, Refugees International says that the agency handled the situation terribly, stating that "poor coordination and logistics on the ground" by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Puerto Rican government "seriously undermined the effectiveness of the aid delivery process."

For the full article, click here. 

Salon: San Juan’s mayor blasts Trump as “disaster-in-chief”

3 months since Hurricane Maria struck, more than 1 million people are still without power in Puerto Rico

One hundred days after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and left most of the American territory's infrastructure destroyed, Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of the island's largest city, is continuing her bracing criticism of President Donald Trump for not doing enough to respond.

“Where he needed to be a commander-in-chief, he was a disaster-in-chief. President Trump does not embody the values of the good-hearted American people that have made sure that we are not forgotten,” Cruz said in an interview with ABC News.

Trump has defended his administration's response to the disaster as deserving a score of 10 out of 10.

“I would say it’s a 10,” Trump said in an October press conference when asked how well the White House had done.

"I give ourselves a 10," he continued. "We have provided so much, so fast."

More than three months after Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, only 70 percent of the territory-owned power company's plants are operational. Many people still have to use generators for power.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told ABC News in a statement that it would take until May to get power working throughout Puerto Rico.

Refugees International, a non-profit group that helps displaced people worldwide, issued a scathing report earlier this month, in which they stated that "thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep."

The study also found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has done a poor job helping storm victims navigate bureaucratic hurdles. FEMA has also failed to renew a temporary program that is currently providing housing to nearly 4,000 Puerto Rican families who were relocated to New Jersey while their homes are rebuilt.

The study also found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has done a poor job helping storm victims navigate bureaucratic hurdles. FEMA has also failed to renew a temporary program that is currently providing housing to nearly 4,000 Puerto Rican families who were relocated to New Jersey while their homes are rebuilt.

Read the original article here

Have you read the Refugees International report on the crisis in Puerto Rico?

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.

(read the full report here)

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

NPO: Deaths from Maria in Puerto Rico Rise above 1,000 as Response Remains Slow

Unfortunately, manmade disasters often follow natural ones. One of the latest examples can be found in the US government’s response to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria did catastrophic damage to the island in September. A new report by the nonprofit Refugees International (RI) has found that two months after the hurricane hit, the emergency response by both US federal and local officials in Puerto Rico has left many of the island’s 3.4 million residents still living in unsafe conditions and unable to access help, even when the help is nominally there.

“There was a failure of leadership and a failure to appreciate the magnitude of the situation and the need for extraordinary action by US officials,” Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, said in an interview with the Associated Press.“These people are our fellow Americans. The response of the federal authorities should have been and should be much stronger than it was and much stronger than it is.”

In the confusion, even the number of people who died as a result of the hurricane is under serious question; many say the official number of 64 is far too low and doesn’t reflect the fact that a thousand more people than usual died during the 42 days following the storm. The New York Times reported on Monday that the method of counting the dead is under official review.

Much of that difference comes from deaths that might not have been caused by the hurricane itself but came in its aftermath, when people were unable to get medical care because hospitals weren’t functioning or when life-saving equipment such as oxygen machines didn’t work because of electricity blackouts. For example, the New York Timesreported there was a 50 percent increase in recorded deaths from sepsis, a severe infection that’s often an indicator of delayed medical care or poor living conditions, in the weeks following the hurricane.

“Everyone is here to help, but there is an epic leadership void,” an aid worker was quoted as saying in the RI report, “Keeping Faith With Our Fellow Americans: Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors in Puerto Rico.”

One thing that has dogged the US federal government response to Puerto Rico is the apparent confusion about responsibility. Is Puerto Rico part of the US? Certainly, but it’s not really clear that that federal officials (or most Americans) knew that in the early days after Hurricane Maria. This left the island in a no-man’s land—and, ironically, unable to access the generally superior, quicker, and better coordinated responses the US gives to foreign countries hit by natural disasters. Instead, the US government followed FEMA’s response blueprint—only much delayed and with less success than in similarly hard-hit places like Texas following Hurricane Harvey and Florida following Hurricane Irma. FEMA’s reliance on coordinating with local authorities was not effective in this case, the report found. Puerto Rican resources—if Puerto Rico was a US state, it would be the poorest in the country—were quickly overwhelmed by the storm, and the late federal government response exacerbated the situation.

The report says the chaos of the early days essentially continues, with lack of coordination between local and federal authorities holding sway. Tarps are available, but few can actually seem to get them, leaving people living in homes with leaky roofs or none at all. FEMA disaster aid is available to homeowners, but the forms are confusing. One applicant reported his cell phone going dead because he was on hold for 20 minutes with FEMA—and he had no way to recharge it due to the lack of electricity.

NPQ has reported extensively on the effect of Hurricane Maria and its aftermath on Puerto Rico. The criticism of the response started in the earliest days following landfall. NPQ’s Cyndi Suarez is currently in Puerto Rico and will be reporting in early January on the role of the nonprofit sector there and how activists are seeking to fill the yawning gaps resulting from the public sector’s inadequate response.—Nancy Young

Read the original article here

CS Monitor: The real story in Puerto Rico

People there are doing much to help themselves and each other. Those who live at a distance can join with them through prayers and donations.

It would be easy to paint a gloomy picture of Puerto Rico at year’s end.

Three months after hurricane Maria struck the island only 70 percent of electrical power generation has been restored. And that figure doesn’t take into account downed lines that keep even that electricity from reaching many homes.

New research by news media organizations into death records has shown that more than 1,000 fatalities can be attributed to the storm and its aftermath, a huge increase over the current official total of just 64. 

An international human rights organization, Refugees International, has criticized relief efforts by both the federal and Puerto Rican governments as showing “poor coordination and logistics on the ground” that have “seriously undermined the effectiveness of the aid delivery process.”

On Tuesday US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson visited the island and struck a more positive note, assuring a group of local officials, “We are in this for the long haul.” Current emergency relief efforts will be followed up by HUD’s help in rebuilding homes, he said.

No doubt the logistics involved in aiding 3.4 million Americans living on an island far off the US mainland, where poverty and a suspect power grid already existed, are daunting.

But it’d be wrong to not point out some good news as well. Celebrities such as movie star Jennifer Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway megahit “Hamilton,” have raised millions of dollars in relief aid and continue to make known the island’s need for help.

Church groups across the United States have responded with heartfelt relief efforts. In Lexington, Mass., for example, the Lexington Interfaith Clergy Association sponsored a drive called Lexington Unites for Puerto Rico that resulted in a 40-foot container with lanterns, clothes, water, food, and other supplies being delivered to residents of Cabo Rojo and Aguadilla, two towns hit hard by the hurricane. 

Local church members there helped unload and distribute the donations to those most in need. The US group expects to continue its efforts, becoming a long-term commitment.

All Americans ought to keep the people of Puerto Rico in mind as they go about their end-of-year charitable giving.

But they can do so not with a sense of pity but with a feeling of rejoicing in the resilience being expressed by Puerto Ricans. From all over the island have come reports of neighbors helping neighbors, sharing what they have and checking in on each other. Some have worked with whatever tools they could find to clear debris and open the roads; many are rebuilding their homes with whatever materials they can find, not waiting for outside aid.

Writer Rebecca Solnit studies disasters and how people respond to them, from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to the 2005 hurricane that flooded New Orleans. Too often, she says, the wrong stories are told. 

“[E]verything we’ve been told about disaster by trashy Hollywood disaster movies ..., everything [in] the news – is that human beings are fragile” and will quickly revert to me-first looting and even savagery.

Instead, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers,” she says. “And that purposefulness and connectedness brings joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.”

As we acknowledge the ability of Puerto Ricans to help themselves we’ll find ourselves encouraged to join with them in our prayers and with charitable donations.

Read the original story here

FOX News: FEMA defends Puerto Rico hurricane response amid criticism

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico –  The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is rejecting a report by Refugees International criticizing local and federal hurricane response in Puerto Rico.

Spokesman Daniel Llargues said Monday that FEMA has approved more than $1 billion in federal assistance and has distributed more than 120,000 tarps to people whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Maria. He said the agency also installed 920 generators, deployed 4,700 medical personnel and distributed more than 56 million liters of water and 49 million meals in the agency's largest commodity mission.

The Category 4 storm hit the island nearly three months ago, causing up to an estimated $95 billion in damage.

Read the original article here

NBC Los Angeles: Refugee Nonprofit Slams Local, US Hurricane Response in Puerto Rico

Power generation on the island is currently at 69 percent of normal, and 5 percent of utility customers still don't have water service

Housing is urgently needed for tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who lack power and a regular source of safe water nearly three months after Hurricane Maria damaged their homes, Refugees International says in a report.

The nonprofit group visited the U.S. territory in recent weeks to survey needs and review the response by local and federal officials in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, marking the first time it has organized a mission to a U.S. jurisdiction. In a report shared with The Associated Press, the group said its team was shocked by poor coordination and logistics across the island that have caused delays in aid. It noted the island is still in emergency mode and requires more help.

"There was a failure of leadership and a failure to appreciate the magnitude of the situation and the need for extraordinary action by U.S. officials," Eric Schwartz, the group's president and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in a phone interview. 

“These people are our fellow Americans. The response of the federal authorities should have been and should be much stronger than it was and much stronger than it is.”

Officials with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency did not return a request for comment Sunday.

Puerto Rico's Bumpy Road to Recovery

Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from the Sept. 20 storm that killed dozens of people and caused up to an estimated $95 billion in damage during a 12-hour rampage across the island with winds of up to 154 mph. Power generation is currently at 69 percent of normal, and 5 percent of utility customers still don't have water service. Nearly 600 people remain in shelters, and more than 130,000 have left for the U.S. mainland.

Those who remain behind face a lack of supplies and problems including limited access to tarps and a delayed response to requests for financial assistance, the report said.

"Compared to international disaster settings, I couldn't believe how slow the response was two months later," said Alice Thomas, climate displacement program manager for Refugees International who visited Puerto Rico.

She called for an improved strategy for delivering aid. "It has to happen now. There is still an emergency going on," she said.

The report noted that it took five days before any senior U.S. officials visited Puerto Rico after the storm, and the nonprofit called for better coordination between local and federal agencies and a more aggressive plan to find adequate housing for those displaced by the hurricane. It said many people were unable to file claims in the first few weeks because they couldn't access the internet and then had problems awaiting home inspections because phone service was so spotty.

The report comes just days after a United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights visited Puerto Rico to assess needs and damage, marking the first time such an envoy has visited the U.S. territory in recent history.

Read the original article here

NPR: U.S. Handled Puerto Rico Hurricane Aftermath Badly, Says Refugee Group

An international human rights group, Refugees International, has issued a scathing report on the U.S. response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria. The group says "poor coordination and logistics on the ground" by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Puerto Rican government "seriously undermined the effectiveness of the aid delivery process."

Refugees International is an independent non-profit group that advocates on behalf of displaced people around the world. This was the first time the group had investigated a situation in the U.S.

When its team arrived in Puerto Rico, more than two months after the storm, Refugees International says it was surprised that the relief effort was "uncoordinated and poorly implemented." The group says the poor response was "prolonging the humanitarian emergency on the ground."

Puerto Rico was especially vulnerable to a disaster like a hurricane, the group says, because of its aging population, poorly maintained infrastructure and lack of emergency management assets, like helicopters and backup generators. "In light of these known limitations," the report says, "it is troubling that it took five days before any senior federal official from the U.S. mainland visited the island."

Comparing it with past natural disasters, such as the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the group found the U.S. response lacking. In Haiti, the group says 8,000 U.S. troops were deployed to the island within two days of the disaster. In Puerto Rico, it took 10 days for 4,500 U.S. troops to arrive. Central to FEMA's problematic response, Refugees International says, is that the federal agency is designed to supplement local and state disaster response efforts. But in Puerto Rico, the group found, municipalities and the Commonwealth had "limited capacity and ability to respond."

Now that immediate needs like food and water are taken care of, the group says, Puerto Rico's greatest need is housing. Puerto Rico's government says more than 472,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Hurricane Maria. Months after the storm, Refugees International says, housing assistance provided by FEMA and the Puerto Rican government is not reaching the most vulnerable populations. Authorities have failed to distribute tarps and temporary roofs to all who need them, the group says. And the process for receiving assistance is complicated, confusing and poorly executed.

Responding to the Refugees International report, FEMA agreed that coordination of efforts in disaster response is vital. But FEMA said Puerto Rico's devastation by the hurricane presented a difficult situation. "More than 1,000 nautical miles from the mainland United States with an already fragile infrastructure and facing challenging economic circumstances presented communication and logistical challenges unique to the situation."

FEMA said: “We regret the loss of life after any disaster and our thoughts and prayers are with the family members affected by the devastation of Hurricane Maria. FEMA continues to work every day to bring back a sense of normalcy to Puerto Rico. ...

”Unity of effort is required for disaster response and recovery on any scale, but especially during this historic season. When emergency managers call for unity of effort, we mean that all levels of government, non-profit organizations, private sector businesses, and survivors must work together – each drawing upon their unique skills and capabilities – to meet the needs of disaster survivors.”

Also Monday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced he was ordering a review of all deaths in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico's government has listed the official death toll from the hurricane at just 64. Independent reporting from journalists and statistical analyses with past years suggest that more than 1,000 deaths may have been due to Hurricane Maria.

Rossello said by law in Puerto Rico, the cause of death must be certified by a doctor or coroner, something not always possible in the chaos after the storm. Rossello has ordered Puerto Rico's Demographic Registry and the Department of Public Safety to review all deaths to get "the most accurate count and understanding of how people lost their lives to fully account for the impact of these storms." The governor has also called for the creation of an expert panel to look at how deaths are certified and make suggestions on how to improve the process in the future.

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Primera Hora: Un "fracaso" la respuesta local y federal ante emergencia por María

Se necesita vivienda urgente para decenas de miles de puertorriqueños que siguen sin luz y una fuente regular de agua potable a casi tres meses del paso del huracán María, de acuerdo a un reporte del organismo Refugees International difundido el domingo. 

La organización sin fines de lucro visitó recientemente la isla para evaluar las necesidades y revisar la respuesta local y federal a la tormenta de Categoría 4. Se trata de la primera visita del grupo a una jurisdicción estadounidense. De acuerdo con el reporte que Refugees International compartió con The Associated Press, su equipo quedó sorprendido con lo que describió como una maña coordinación y logística en toda la isla, lo que ha provocado la demora en la llegada de ayuda. Destacó que Puerto Rico aún se encuentra bajo estado de emergencia y requiere de más ayuda. 

“Hubo un fracaso de liderazgo y un fracaso para apreciar la magnitud de la situación y la necesidad de acciones extraordinarias por parte de las autoridades estadounidenses”, dijo Eric Schwartz, presidente del grupo y un exsubsecretario de población, refugiados y migración del departamento de Estado. “Son compatriotas estadounidenses. La respuesta de las autoridades federales debió ser y debería ser mucho mayor de lo que fue y de lo que es”. 

La Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias no respondió el domingo a una solicitud en busca de comentario. 

Puerto Rico aún lucha por recuperarse de la tormenta del 20 de septiembre en la que murieron decenas de personas y provocó alrededor de 95,000 millones de dólares en años durante su asedio de una hora por toda la isla con vientos de hasta 154 mph. 

El servicio eléctrico opera actualmente al 69% de sus capacidades y el 5% de los consumidores aún no cuentan con servicio de agua. Casi 600 personas permanecen en albergues y más de 130,000 se han trasladado a Estados Unidos continental. 

Aquellos que permanecieron en la isla enfrentan un desabasto de productos y problemas que van desde el acceso limitado a lonas hasta la demora en la respuesta a solicitudes de asistencia financiera, dijo el reporte. 

“En comparación a los parámetros de desastres internacionales, no puedo creer lo lenta que fue la respuesta dos meses después”, dijo Alice Thomas, directora de programa de desplazados a causa del clima para Refugees International, y quien visitó la isla. 

Hizo un llamado a mejorar la estrategia para la entrega de ayuda. 

“Debe darse ahora. La emergencia permanece vigente”, recalcó.

El estudio destacó que pasaron cinco días antes de que cualquier alto funcionario federal visitara la isla después de la tormenta, y el organismo pidió una mejor coordinación entre las agencias locales y federales, así como un plan más agresivo para encontrar viviendas adecuadas para los desplazados por el huracán. Dijo que muchas personas no pudieron presentar denuncias en las primeras semanas debido a que no contaban con acceso a internet y posteriormente tuvieron problemas para esperar a los inspectores debido al intermitente servicio telefónico. 

El reporte se difundió apenas días después de que un experto de Naciones Unidas en pobreza extrema y derechos humanos visitó Puerto Rico para evaluar las necesidades y los daños, lo que representa la primera ocasión que una misión de ese tipo visita al territorio estadounidense en la historia reciente.

Read the original article here. 

Las Vegas Sun: Report slams local, US hurricane response in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A report by Refugees International says housing is urgently needed for tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who lack power and safe water nearly three months after Hurricane Maria damaged their homes.

The nonprofit group recently visited the U.S. territory to survey needs and review the local and federal response to the Category 4 storm. The visit marked the first time the group organized a mission to a U.S. jurisdiction.

Refugees International said in a report shared with The Associated Press that its team was shocked by what it called poor coordination and logistics across the island that have caused delays in aid. It noted the island is still in emergency mode and requires more help.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency did not return a request for comment Sunday.

See the original article here

The Seattle Times: Report slams local, US hurricane response in Puerto Rico

Housing is urgently needed for tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who lack power and a regular source of safe water nearly three months after Hurricane Maria damaged their homes, Refugees International says in a report.

The nonprofit group visited the U.S. territory in recent weeks to survey needs and review the response by local and federal officials in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, marking the first time it has organized a mission to a U.S. jurisdiction. In a report shared with The Associated Press, the group said its team was shocked by poor coordination and logistics across the island that have caused delays in aid. It noted the island is still in emergency mode and requires more help.

"There was a failure of leadership and a failure to appreciate the magnitude of the situation and the need for extraordinary action by U.S. officials," Eric Schwartz, the group's president and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in a phone interview. "These people are our fellow Americans. The response of the federal authorities should have been and should be much stronger than it was and much stronger than it is."

Officials with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency did not return a request for comment Sunday.

Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from the Sept. 20 storm that killed dozens of people and caused up to an estimated $95 billion in damage during a 12-hour rampage across the island with winds of up to 154 mph. Power generation is currently at 69 percent of normal, and 5 percent of utility customers still don't have water service. Nearly 600 people remain in shelters, and more than 130,000 have left for the U.S. mainland.

Those who remain behind face a lack of supplies and problems including limited access to tarps and a delayed response to requests for financial assistance, the report said.

"Compared to international disaster settings, I couldn't believe how slow the response was two months later," said Alice Thomas, climate displacement program manager for Refugees International who visited Puerto Rico.

She called for an improved strategy for delivering aid. "It has to happen now. There is still an emergency going on," she said.

The report noted that it took five days before any senior U.S. officials visited Puerto Rico after the storm, and the nonprofit called for better coordination between local and federal agencies and a more aggressive plan to find adequate housing for those displaced by the hurricane. It said many people were unable to file claims in the first few weeks because they couldn't access the internet and then had problems awaiting home inspections because phone service was so spotty.

The report comes just days after a United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights visited Puerto Rico to assess needs and damage, marking the first time such an envoy has visited the U.S. territory in recent history.

Read the original article here

Yahoo: Reporte critica respuesta local y federal a huracán en PR

Se necesita vivienda urgente para decenas de miles de puertorriqueños que siguen sin luz y una fuente regular de agua potable a casi tres meses del paso del huracán María, de acuerdo a un reporte del organismo Refugees International difundido el domingo.

La organización sin fines de lucro visitó recientemente la isla para evaluar las necesidades y revisar la respuesta local y federal a la tormenta de Categoría 4. Se trata de la primera visita del grupo a una jurisdicción estadounidense. De acuerdo con el reporte que Refugees International compartió con The Associated Press, su equipo quedó sorprendido con lo que describió como una maña coordinación y logística en toda la isla, lo que ha provocado la demora en la llegada de ayuda. Destacó que Puerto Rico aún se encuentra bajo estado de emergencia y requiere de más ayuda.

“Hubo un fracaso de liderazgo y un fracaso para apreciar la magnitud de la situación y la necesidad de acciones extraordinarias por parte de las autoridades estadounidenses”, dijo Eric Schwartz, presidente del grupo y un exsubsecretario de población, refugiados y migración del departamento de Estado. “Son compatriotas estadounidenses. La respuesta de las autoridades federales debió ser y debería ser mucho mayor de lo que fue y de lo que es”.

La Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias no respondió el domingo a una solicitud en busca de comentario.

Puerto Rico aún lucha por recuperarse de la tormenta del 20 de septiembre en la que murieron decenas de personas y provocó alrededor de 95.000 millones de dólares en años durante su asedio de una hora por toda la isla con vientos de hasta 247 kilómetros por hora (154 mph). El servicio eléctrico opera actualmente al 69% de sus capacidades y el 5% de los consumidores aún no cuentan con servicio de agua. Casi 600 personas permanecen en albergues y más de 130.000 se han trasladado a Estados Unidos continental.

Aquellos que permanecieron en la isla enfrentan un desabasto de productos y problemas que van desde el acceso limitado a lonas hasta la demora en la respuesta a solicitudes de asistencia financiera, dijo el reporte.

“En comparación a los parámetros de desastres internacionales, no puedo creer lo lenta que fue la respuesta dos meses después”, dijo Alice Thomas, directora de programa de desplazados a causa del clima para Refugees International, y quien visitó la isla.

Hizo un llamado a mejorar la estrategia para la entrega de ayuda.

“Debe darse ahora. La emergencia permanece vigente”, recalcó.

El estudio destacó que pasaron cinco días antes de que cualquier alto funcionario federal visitara la isla después de la tormenta, y el organismo pidió una mejor coordinación entre las agencias locales y federales, así como un plan más agresivo para encontrar viviendas adecuadas para los desplazados por el huracán. Dijo que muchas personas no pudieron presentar denuncias en las primeras semanas debido a que no contaban con acceso a internet y posteriormente tuvieron problemas para esperar a los inspectores debido al intermitente servicio telefónico.

El reporte se difundió apenas días después de que un experto de Naciones Unidas en pobreza extrema y derechos humanos visitó Puerto Rico para evaluar las necesidades y los daños, lo que representa la primera ocasión que una misión de ese tipo visita al territorio estadounidense en la historia reciente.

Read the original article here

CNN: Tragedy of a village built on ice

Read the original story here.

By John D. Sutter, CNN
Video by Bryce Urbany and John D. Sutter, CNN

Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT) March 29, 2017

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion who focuses on climate change and social justice. Follow him on SnapchatTwitter and Facebook.

Shishmaref, Alaska (CNN)There's a cemetery in the heart of this Arctic village, its white crosses blending into a backdrop of snow. In the cemetery are two men I've come to Alaska to write about. Their names: Esau and Norman.

Their bodies are buried in the cemetery, I'm sure of it. I've seen the obituaries.

But neither man is dead.

No one in Shishmaref dies, I'm told -- not really.

It's about 9 a.m. as I trudge through the snow, past the cemetery and to a neighboring house. The sky is frozen in pre-dawn twilight. The sun won't rise for hours.

An elder answers the door and welcomes me into a living room that smells of sourdough and coffee. On the shelves, above a big-screen TV: dozens of figurines carved from walrus ivory, a tradition in this 560-person Inupiat village. How meta, I think. Walrus ivory carved back into the shape of a walrus, as if the animal were reincarnated from its own tusks.

Even walruses have a second life here, apparently.

The man offers me a seat and a coffee mug.

I'm here to ask him about Esau.

Yes, one of the men in the cemetery.

But also the 19-year-old born with the same name -- the hoodie-wearing kid with the faint mustache. The one, among many, who's trying to imagine another future for this village.

A future away from this island.

The blue house

Everyone knows Shishmaref isn't expected to last long.

Residents of this barrier island, located just south of the Arctic Circle, some 600 miles from Anchorage and only 100 miles from Russia, have been saying so for years.

To understand it, visit the tiny blue house at the edge of the land.

It's the edge of the Earth, really. And it's also the house where Norman grew up.

Norman, the second man in the cemetery.

Inside, an old woman sits in a wheelchair and an old man peers through the kitchen window at the Chukchi Sea. A cassette-radio buzzes with headlines from God-knows-where, but the man, Norman's father, isn't listening. Shelton Kokeok, a 72-year-old with palm-sized ears and a face that tragedy has worn into a grouper's frown, is focused on the ocean. He scans it in a state of unease; creases etch his forehead. Shelton, who once was a light-hearted man, and whose kind eyes and infectious smile still hint at happier times, will be nervous until the water is frozen cement-hard. Today, in mid-December, it is the texture of a snow cone.

"It's not really solid yet," he tells me, forlorn. "Young ice, fresh ice, you know?"

These aren't bored-old-man concerns.

The ice is disappearing.

And then there's what happened to his son, Norman.

First, the ice.

Here, and across the Arctic, sea ice is forming later and thawing earlier.

That ice protects Shishmaref's coast from erosion. Without it, punishing storms grab hunks of the land and pull it out to sea, shrinking and destabilizing the island.

Look at where the coast was in 2004 -- and where it's expected to be in 2053.

Shelton's blue house is right on the edge of the receding coastline.

He worries it could fall in.

    That happened to one of his neighbors.

    As the world warms -- thanks largely to the 1,200 metric tons of carbon dioxide we humans are pumping into the atmosphere each second -- the ice is disappearing. The planet has warmed about 1 degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution, when people started burning fossil fuels for heat and electricity, creating a blanket of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. But scientists say the Arctic, the far-north, is warming twice as fast as the rest of Earth.

    "I miss that cold, cold weather," says Hazel Fernandez. I meet her in a community hall; she'd rather be fishing on the ice but says it's still too thin. "It's too weird. It's too warm."

    Outside, thermometers show temperatures in the mid-20s Fahrenheit, or about minus 4 Celsius. That's freakishly warm for December, everyone tells me. I'm wearing two coats and ski pants, and residents of Shishmaref seem to find that hilarious. This isn't cold, they say. Their sealskin hats and mittens, the fur-lined hooded parkas -- those mostly stay at home.

    Fernandez, in her early 60s, fondly remembers temperatures of 30- and 40-below Fahrenheit.

    But mean air surface temperatures increased more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Arctic region between 1960 and 2011, according to the US National Snow & Ice Data Center. Arctic sea ice, measured since 1979, was at a monthly record low in January. And the September sea ice minimum is decreasing at a rate of 13.3% per decade.

    The scientific consensus is that human pollution is driving these changes.

    But it's not the science or the charts that matter most to Shelton.

    It's not his blue house, either, perched precariously on the edge.

    It's his son, Norman.

    It's that day: June 2, 2007.

    The day Norman fell through the ice and died.

    Esau

    The stories about Esau are easy to unearth.

    Like people here, they never truly die.

    "What was Esau like?" I ask the elder whose home is next to the white crosses and the cemetery, in the heart of this village of wooden homes and metal-sided buildings, a place where the winter landscape is an infinity of white, where there's no running water or sewage service, where a shower costs $3.50 at the holiday rate, a 12-pack of Sprite $12.75. Most people prefer to live off the land, hunting seal, walrus and ptarmigan and fishing tomcod as their ancestors did.

    The elder replies in a tone that is airy and patient, a voice measured through time.

    Esau Weyiouanna was something of a renegade in Shishmaref, he tells me. He was an individual in a place that prides itself on community -- an opinionated, outspoken man in a village where many would prefer to blend with the environment. In a photo that hangs on a friend's wall today, Esau wears purple-and-green plaid and Napoleon-Dynamite bifocals, a knowing, understanding smile on his lips. His eyebrows are angled and inquisitive, like an owl's.

    Allow the elder to share one story.

      Decades ago, the Christian church decided to ban some of the village's Inupiat traditions, which had been passed from one generation to the next for centuries, if not longer. The church believed some of these traditions defied the will of God and were incompatible with its teachings. Dancing, in particular, was banned. Children of Shishmaref no longer could gather with drums made of stretched walrus stomach to move their bodies in the same artful patterns their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents always had, the elder tells me.

      Esau was the rare man who could see both sides of this dispute, the kind of man who straddled worlds both modern and ancient. He served on the church board, the elder says. But he also loved the Inupiat cultural traditions -- particularly the dance. So he took a stand. Esau danced boldly and in public, the elder tells me, to remind the community of the value of culture.

      Today, the elder says, children are taught this dance in the local school.

      This portal to the past remains open because of Esau.

      Renegade, reborn

      Decades later, and nearing death, Esau tried to ensure his story would continue.

      He walked up to a pregnant woman and touched her stomach.

      How am I doing in there? he asked.

      It was a startling question, but up here in a world of ice, where no one really dies, or not for long, the meaning was clear to the mother. She knew Esau's body soon would be laid to rest in the cemetery, and that he would be reincarnated as the child still growing inside her.

      Esau Weyiouanna was declared dead on October 29, 1997.

      On November 16, the woman's child was born.

      The family, following tradition, named him Esau.

      Esau Sinnok.

      A village renegade, reborn.

      Norman

      Elders say the ice should have been safe that day in 2007.

      Norman had been on a hunting trip and was heading back into town in the early morning of late spring, when lower latitudes would still be shrouded in darkness but when this village sees nearly eternal sunshine, the tilt of the Earth making it possible to hunt through the night.

      Village elders and family members tell me he was crossing a narrow part of the lagoon that separates Shishmaref and its barrier island from mainland Alaska. It may sound strange to drive a snowmobile across ice-covered water in June. But elders tell me the ice should have been frozen solid that time of year -- that there was no indication Norman would be in danger.

      Now, everyone is less trusting.

      Some haven't gone hunting on the ice since.

      Norman's death was particularly hard on his father, Shelton, who keeps a photo of the young man, wearing a buzz cut and Reno-911 mustache, on his coffee table, facing the door for all to see. Norman was a second-chance child, one he taught to hunt seal and follow traditions Inupiat people had followed here for at least four centuries, if not many more. Yet, from birth, the boy had an air of tragedy about him, even if no one in the family dared say so aloud.

      It was in the name: Norman.

      Norman was named after Shelton's brother, who died in a plane crash.

      The tragedy brought Shelton together with Clara, who was married to his brother.

      In the wake of the accident, the two mourners decided to marry. Love was at the heart of it, to be sure, but Shelton also felt a sense of duty -- duty to occupy the loving, supportive station his brother had left vacant in Clara's life.

      When one man leaves, another stands in his place.

      'Like an old soul'

        The boy always seemed to possess knowledge from another life.

        As a toddler, Esau Sinnok spouted off phrases in Inupiaq, the local language, even though no one had taught him to do so. Then, as a young boy, Esau was traveling with his birth mother across the empty landscape that surrounds Shishmaref. "That's where I used to camp," he told her. It was the very spot where his namesake, Esau Weyiouanna, used to stay.

        It was as if the renegade elder were speaking through the boy.

        A voice carried on the wind from one generation to the next.

        People in the village treat it this way.

        For many, it's not just that young Esau reminds them of his namesake. It's that Esau is the namesake elder, returned from the grave and walking among them. They sometimes call him "father" or "brother" or "cousin," referencing their relationships with the elder who passed away.

        Esau inherited the elder's respected status, too. "He's like an old soul," says his adoptive mother, Bessi Sinnok. "He's very outspoken, like his namesake. His namesake was very respected by lots of people and because of that he had already earned respect as he was growing up."

        Teenage Esau never knew this when he was young. Bessi Sinnok told me the village hid the history from him. She wanted her son to form his own identity.

        Yet she watched as the elder's personality seemed to emerge from the boy. Esau, who was nearly mute as a child, they say, bookish and reserved, grew to be an outspoken and free-thinking young man, much like the elder Esau -- and much to the surprise of his family.

        Two events helped encourage the shift.

        One was a storm in 2006.

        Esau remembers the waves crashing over his grandparent's roof.

        The small blue house at the edge of the land once seemed like it might stand forever.

        After the storm, he tells me, "We thought the house would collapse."

        The other was the death of his uncle, Norman, the man who feel through the ice.

        Esau was only 9.

        "It really hurts," Esau tells me. He's now a 19-year-old college student with heavy eyes and mussy hair. "It really made me cry and wonder why he left so early. And there's not a day that goes by that I do not think of him. He's always on my mind. He's always in my heart."

        'Climate change is happening real fast'

        A few years after Norman's death, Esau moved into Shelton and Clara Kokeok's blue house at the edge of the Earth. Esau tells me he wanted to help his grandparents with chores his uncle might have performed, which would have included things like getting ice for drinking water from the lake, washing clothes in the local "Washateria" and emptying the "honey bucket" toilet.

        Shelton remembers telling his grandson how much the village had changed over the years, how the weather wasn't cold like it used to be, how these storms seemed bigger now, how much of the land, including the neighbor's house, had already disappeared -- and how he might be next.

        "When I built this house, there was still more ground out there," Shelton says. "We're right on the edge of the beach now ... Climate change is happening real fast."

        But none of this made sense to Esau -- not really -- until his senior year of high school.

          That's when he took Ken Stenek's science class.

          Stenek, an affable, big-smiling guy with a wiry beard and a kettlebell figure, told the students about the greenhouse effect -- how pollution, mostly from fossil fuels, hangs around in the atmosphere and acts like a blanket, heating the planet. They watched "An Inconvenient Truth," the high-profile documentary featuring former Vice President Al Gore and a graph often called the "hockey stick." That now-famous chart shows that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere haven't been this high in hundreds of thousands of years.

          Esau learned that a consensus of climate scientists -- at least 97% -- agree humans are causing rapid warming, and that continuing to pollute at current rates would be catastrophic, contributing to mass extinction, searing droughts, deadlier heat waves and more.

          They also talked about the consequences for Shishmaref.

          The "erosion" everyone in town was discussing?

          That was related to the melting sea ice, the thawing of permafrost, the frequency of damaging storms. In short: By burning fossil fuels, people were helping destroy this village.

          If you'd asked him the year before what he wanted to do with his professional life, Esau would have told you he wanted to be a petroleum engineer, like his brother. Good money, he'd say, unaware that extracting and burning fossil fuels like oil is contributing to the problem.

          Now, however, Esau was learning the science.

          He thought about his grandfather's house.

          His uncle's death.

          He believes that climate change had a hand in both.

          'Imminent' threats

          This education took him all the way to Paris.

          Through Ken Stenek's science class, Esau met researchers who were studying climate change and its consequences. And through those connections he became an Arctic Youth Ambassador, which is a program of two federal agencies and Alaska Geographic, a nonprofit. He learned that Shishmaref is not alone -- that 31 villages in Alaska face "imminent" threats from erosion and other issues related to climate change, according to a Government Accountability Office report; and that 12 of them were exploring relocation options because of warming.

          Esau started to wonder: Could Shishmaref actually survive the melting of the Arctic?

          Was his village's life nearing its end?

          Or the start of a new beginning?

          Those questions never occurred to Esau before, although they had been on the lips of older people in Shishmaref for years. They're questions kept from young people, hoping to protect them, wanting them to grow up with a sense that the world is more certain than it is.

          The Obama White House named Esau a Champion of Change for Climate Equity. He got to go to Washington. Then, he said, with help from the Sierra Club, an environmental group, he got to attend international climate change negotiations in Paris in December 2015. It was that meeting -- which is often called "COP21," since that's simpler than "the 21st meeting of the conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change" -- where world leaders agreed, after decades of failure, to work together to end the fossil fuel era.

          The target: Limit global temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.

          Basically, that means eliminating fossil fuels this century.

          In Paris, hope filled the air -- hope for a cleaner, safer future.

          Esau, meanwhile, arrived in the French capital terrified.

          It was just so different from Shishmaref.

          "It felt a little claustrophobic to me, being in a big city for the first time," he says. "It felt like I just can't take a walk or go outside and walk without thinking of being threatened or beat up. When you walk around here, you don't feel that. Everyone here is family. You get a sense of trust." He was so afraid of Paris -- its clustered buildings, sidewalks thick with people, streets clogged with smoking cars -- that he did not dare leave the hotel without an escort.

          The scale of the place got to him in other ways, too.

          How much pollution are all these people creating?

          How do you get all of them to change?

          In a word: overwhelming.

          Yet amid this chaos, Esau made another leap of understanding.

          'Before it completely erodes away'

          Rae Bainteiti comes from Kiribati, a tropical island nation that could not be more geographically dissimilar from Shishmaref. Sun and sand vs. ice and snow. The two places are thousands of miles apart, separated by the vast Pacific Ocean and a half-world of latitude, with Shishmaref near the Arctic Circle and Kiribati near the equator. Yet when an interviewer sat Rae down with Esau in Paris, the two young men discussed the perils of a common threat.

          Both may have to relocate because of climate change.

          "My future generation of kids will be the last ones that will actually be on the island of Shishmaref before it completely erodes away," Esau tells Rae in the Paris interview, which is posted on YouTube.

          He looks directly at the other young man.

          "It's just really sad knowing that you probably have to relocate and migrate, too," Esau says.

          "Your country has to be stopped from melting so we don't see water rising," Rae replies.

          The two share a laugh at the irony of the situation: As Arctic ice melts and oceans warm, sea levels around the world are rising. A host of locations, from Pacific islands like Kiribati to low-lying countries like Bangladesh and cities from New York to Shanghai will be threatened with coastal flooding -- and possibly relocation, too -- as people continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Already, Miami Beach, Florida, is installing pumps and raising street levels to try to hold the water back. That work is only the beginning of a $400-million-plus project. In 2016, the community of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, got a $48 million federal grant to relocate, in part because of rising seas. But this is the exception rather than the rule. Most local governments don't have the money for infrastructure to hold rising tides back.

          Experts say there are no programs -- in the United States or internationally -- designed specifically to plan and fund climate-driven relocations. Only a few moves have been funded with money designated for climate adaptation projects, said Elizabeth Ferris, research professor at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration.

          "Governments are reluctant to think about planned relocations because everyone wants to stay where they are," she told me. But "if it isn't planned well, it just doesn't work. It leaves people much worse off."

          "There's no federal or state law -- no institution in the United States -- with a mandate for how are we going to manage relocation internally," said Alice Thomas, the climate displacement program manager at Refugees International, a non-profit group. "It's going to be enormously expensive. It's going to be very vulnerable people ... people who aren't going to be able to cut their losses on their home when they can't get flood insurance. Where will they go?"

          In Shishmaref, the answer remains unclear.

          Relocation

          August 2016.

          Globally, it tied for the hottest month of the hottest year on record. In Shishmaref, residents went to the polls to decide whether they would relocate because of warming.

          The answer: Yes, by a margin of 89 to 78, according to local officials.

          But the August 16 vote did not solve Shishmaref's trouble. Far from it.

          Annie Weyiouanna, local coordinator for the Native Village of Shishmaref, tells me the tribe has no money to fund the move. And this isn't the first time the village has held a relocation vote. They did so in 2002, as well. Nothing changed. No one in the village today is packing. And Weyiouanna has tried to stop using the word "relocation" -- or uses it minimally, sometimes correcting herself -- because she worries it will signal to funding agencies in the state and federal governments that the village will be gone soon and doesn't need help with grants or infrastructure. The reality is that no one knows how long the village will be stuck.

          Perhaps forever, some worry, or until the island is gone.

          "They are not safe right now, and their lives are in danger because of the storms that are coming in," said Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice and a senior research scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She was referring to Shishmaref as well as Newtok and Kivalina, Alaska, which face similar circumstances. "(T)hey just need a large sum of money to get them to the places that they've chosen so they can be safe."

          Shishmaref has identified two potential sites for a new version of the community. Both are inland, meaning hunters and fishers would not be able to access the sea as easily. Some people in the community -- particularly elders -- believe the move threatens the tribe's Inupiat identity.

          Away from the coast, are they still the same people?

          Why should they move when others are driving climate change?

          Esau has wrestled with these questions, too. His grandparents, Shelton and Clara, the couple in the blue house at the edge of the Earth, who lost their son to the ice, do not want to leave. They want to stay in their home -- in the community they know so well -- no matter the risks.

          Esau worries about them.

          "If you ask the older generations like my grandfather, their views are totally different," he tells me. "They want to stay on this island forever and ever. And I respect that decision. They're my elders.

          "But, to me, I think we have to relocate so that our future generations can still be alive."

          Norman, age 7

          On my last day in Shishmaref, Esau and I paid his old science teacher a visit.

          We found Ken Stenek in a cream-colored house with Christmas lights on the roofline. He lives on a part of the island where houses are newer. Some were moved from the side where Esau's grandparents live, and where coastal erosion is more threatening.

          Standing in his home, I couldn't help but think about the cemetery.

          About the two men -- Esau and Norman -- who are buried there.

          Two young people, bearing those names, were standing in the room with me.

          There was Esau Sinnok, standing in the entryway, of course.

          But also Norman, sitting on the sofa in the living room.

          Norman Stenek, age 7.

          The boy was named after Esau's uncle, the one who fell through the ice.

          When I visited, young Norman seemed more interested in a tablet computer than a conversation with a random reporter, and I can't blame him for that. Still, the encounter sticks with me.

          It made me wonder: What will his life be like?

          His name -- Norman -- carries a tragic legacy. The death in the plane crash. The fall through the ice. Will this 7-year-old live to see the rest of the village drown beneath the waves, too?

          Will the same happen to millions of coastal residents during his lifetime?

          And what about Esau?

          Sometimes I think the weight of this tragedy falls on his young shoulders. His namesake was a local agitator and his uncle's death drove him into activism. The strength of his voice -- his power to command attention -- has surprised a village where few care to stand out from the crowd. He speaks out against fossil fuels, saying that the world must rush to a future with 100% renewable, clean energy. It may be too late for Shishmaref, he says, but what about other communities in similar straits? How many people will pollution force from their homes?

          "I don't blame it on one person, or a group of people. It's all our fault," Esau tells me. "It's not the 1940s anymore. We can't use fossil fuels anymore to heat our homes and use for our energy.

          "We can transition from dirty fossil fuels to renewable energies."

          But how much weight can a 19-year-old bear?

          The rest of us must realize our role in this tragedy.

          Responsibility for Shishmaref's plight falls on those in the industrialized world who continue to pollute the atmosphere with carbon, knowing it will warm the climate, melt the ice and make it less likely Shishmaref will survive. It falls on the Trump administration, which has moved to defund and upend climate change initiatives instead of planning for a transition to cleaner power sources, like wind and solar. It falls on politicians who know the scope of the impending climate relocation crisis but have done little to make adequate plans or secure appropriate funding.

          Shishmaref is part of America, even if it's rarely treated that way.

          It is a place where people never really die, where the cemetery on that hilltop in the center of the island is full of people like Norman and Esau who are kept alive by names and stories. The question now is whether villages, like people, can be reincarnated.

          Can Shishmaref be reborn?

          Sadly, it's a question the village cannot answer on its own.