Puerto Rico

Hurricane María’s Survivors: “Women’s Safety Was Not Prioritized”

Hurricane María’s Survivors: “Women’s Safety Was Not Prioritized”

One year ago this week, Hurricane María made landfall in Puerto Rico causing catastrophic damage to the island. Women and girls are typically disproportionately impacted in natural disasters, and there are widely held standards and guidelines in place to guarantee their protection before, during, and after an emergency. However, insufficient protocols were put in place to ensure that women were protected during and after the storm. In fact, violence against women increased after Hurricane María, and women’s rights activists have now declared a crisis of gender-based violence (GBV) in the storm’s aftermath. 

Amid Hurricane María Disaster in Puerto Rico, Strong Community Leaders Emerge

Amid Hurricane María Disaster in Puerto Rico, Strong Community Leaders Emerge

In the face of insufficient assistance from federal and Puerto Rican authorities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, ordinary people have stepped up to become strong community leaders—ultimately strengthening community resilience and self-reliance. Yet they are largely being left out of recovery plans.

Six Months After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's Civil Society Continues to Shore Up the Gaps

Six Months After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's Civil Society Continues to Shore Up the Gaps

Six months after Hurricane Maria, the slow response to the needs of the Puerto Rican people continues to be woefully slow. The Puerto Rican and federal authorities' failure to adequately respond has been nothing short of a travesty. Alice Thomas writes that if there is a silver lining to this disaster, it is the incredible dedication of Puerto Rico's civil society groups in working toward the recovery of their communities and their most vulnerable neighbors.

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. 

MANTENIENDO LA ESPERANZA CON NUESTROS COMPATRIOTAS EN PUERTO RICO: Satisfaciendo las necesidades urgentes de los sobrevivientes del huracán María

Washington, D.C. (diciembre 21, 2017) – A casi tres meses después de que el devastador huracán María azotara a Puerto Rico, los ciudadanos de este territorio estadounidense continúan enfrentando enormes desafíos al acceder la electricidad, el agua potable, y la asistencia federal para reparar sus hogares. En respuesta a esta crisis, Refugees International (RI), una organización independiente y no partidaria, que aboga a favor de los refugiados y desplazados, llevó a cabo su primera misión dentro de los Estados Unidos para investigar la emergencia humanitaria – una acción que, hasta ahora, solamente había llevado a cabo en el exterior. Hoy, después de haber completado su misión a fines de noviembre, Refugees International publicó su evaluación de la crisis en Puerto Rico en el informe, “Manteniendo la esperanza con nuestros compatriotas en Puerto Rico: Satisfaciendo las necesidades urgentes de los sobrevivientes del huracán María.”

“Han pasado casi tres meses desde que el devastador huracán María azotó a Puerto Rico, y muchos de los sobrevivientes con quienes nos hemos reunido – incluyendo a personas mayores con problemas de salud – todavía no tienen un techo que los proteja y están literalmente y figurativamente en la oscuridad,” dijo el presidente de RI, Eric Schwartz, quien viajó a la isla a fines de noviembre como parte de un equipo investigativo de RI. “La respuesta inicial sufrió gravemente de una falta de liderazgo a nivel federal empeorada por un fracaso total en responder con los recursos o la urgencia que la situación exigía. La emergencia continúa y no es muy tarde para que el gobierno de los E.E.U.U. fortalezca sus esfuerzos para abordar la situación de nuestros compatriotas quienes han sufrido – y continúan sufriendo - tan gravemente en Puerto Rico”.

Teniendo en cuenta la experiencia de RI en respuesta y prevención de desastres internacionales, uno de los objetivos principales de la misión era identificar cómo se podrían utilizar las mejores prácticas internacionales de respuesta en casos de desastre en Puerto Rico y en situaciones similares.

“Francamente nos sorprendió la pobre coordinación y falta de logística sobre el terreno – por FEMA y por el gobierno de Puerto Rico – que menoscabó seriamente la eficacia del suministro de ayuda”, dijo Alice Thomas, investigadora principal para el informe de RI. “Los Estados Unidos, a través de la Agencia de los Estados Unidos para el Desarrollo Internacional (USAID por sus siglas en inglés) agresivamente promueve mejorar la coordinación de las respuestas internacionales en casos de desastres, y es una pena que no practiquemos en casa lo que predicamos en el extranjero”.

El informe de RI indica que los sobrevivientes de María se enfrentan a unos retos enormes al intentar navegar el proceso excesivamente burocrático y opaco de asistencia de FEMA, y exhorta a FEMA y a las autoridades puertorriqueñas que adopten sistemas mejorados de coordinación y manejo para asegurar que la ayuda llegue a los hogares más vulnerables. El informe le hace un llamado a FEMA y al gobierno de Puerto Rico que transformen el manejo de información implementando una campaña pública para difundir información fácil de comprender sobre la asistencia de respuesta y recuperación.

Finalmente, el informe enfatiza la importancia de reducir el riesgo de desastres futuros durante el proceso de reconstrucción y la necesidad de que el Congreso apoye generosamente estos esfuerzos.

“Es critico que los esfuerzos de respuesta y recuperación en Puerto Rico incluyan medidas para reconstruir de manera más segura y aumentar la resiliencia de la isla ante desastres futuros”, dijo Thomas, directora del programa de desplazamientos causados por el cambio climático. “Puerto Rico, al igual que los otros grandes desastres ocurridos a través de la nación durante el 2017, debe servir como una señal de alerta. Nuestros líderes tienen que trabajar hacia hacer nuestras comunidades – incluyendo a nuestros compatriotas en Puerto Rico – más resilientes y mejor preparadas frente a estos desastres cada vez más intensos”.

Leer informe aquí.

Para entrevistas con el presidente de RI, Eric Schwartz, o con la directora del programa de desplazamiento climático, Alice Thomas, favor contactar a Gail Chalef, oficial superior de comunicaciones, al (202) 540-7026 o a gail@refugeesinternational.org.

Keeping Faith with Our Fellow Americans in Puerto Rico: Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors

Washington, D.C. (December 18, 2017) – Almost three months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the citizens of the U.S. territory continue to face enormous challenges in accessing electricity, potable water, and federal assistance in repairing or rebuilding their homes. In response to this crisis, Refugees International (RI), a wholly independent, non-partisan advocacy group, conducted its first-ever mission within the United States to investigate the humanitarian emergency – an action the organization heretofore has only executed overseas. Completing its mission in late November 2017, RI today released its assessment of the Puerto Rico crisis in the report, “Keeping Faith with our Fellow Americans: Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors in Puerto Rico.”

“It has been almost three months since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and many survivors with whom we met – including people who are elderly and in poor health – still don’t have a roof over their heads and are literally and figuratively in the dark,” said RI President Eric Schwartz, who traveled to the island as part of an RI investigative team in late November. “The initial response suffered gravely from a failure of leadership at the federal level made worse by an overall failure to respond with either the resources or the urgency that the situation demanded. As the emergency continues, it is not too late for the U.S. government to strengthen efforts to address the plight of our fellow Americans who have suffered – and continue to suffer – so severely in Puerto Rico.”

In light of RI’s experience in disaster response and prevention around the world, a major goal of the mission was to identify how international best practices for disaster response could be brought to bear in Puerto Rico and in similar situations.

“Frankly, we were surprised by the poor coordination and logistics on the ground – by FEMA and the Puerto Rican government – which seriously undermined the effectiveness of the aid delivery process,” said Alice Thomas, lead researcher for the RI report. “The United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has aggressively promoted enhanced coordination in international responses to disasters, and it is a shame that the United States didn’t practice at home what we have been preaching abroad.”

The RI report notes that Maria survivors are facing enormous challenges in navigating FEMA’s overly bureaucratic and opaque assistance process, and it urges FEMA and Puerto Rican authorities to adopt vastly improved coordination and management systems to ensure that aid is targeted at the most vulnerable households. The report calls on FEMA and the Puerto Rican government to transform information management by implementing a public information campaign to effectively share easy-to-understand information on response and recovery assistance.

Finally, the report stresses the importance of reducing the risk of future disasters in the rebuilding process and the need for generous support from the Congress to promote such efforts.

“It is critical that response and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico include measures to build back safer and build the island’s resilience to future disasters,” said Thomas, RI’s Climate Displacement Program Manager. “Puerto Rico and the other major disasters we have faced across the nation in 2017 should serve as a wake-up call. Our leaders must work to make our communities – including our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico - more resilient and better prepared in the face of these intensifying disasters.”

Read the report here.

For interviews with RI President Eric Schwartz or Climate Displacement Program Manager Alice Thomas, please contact Gail Chalef, Senior Communications Officer, at (202) 540-7026 or at gail@refugeesinternational.org.

Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors in Puerto Rico

Meeting the Urgent Needs of Hurricane Maria Survivors in Puerto Rico

In November, Refugees International carried out a mission to Puerto Rico to investigate the U.S. response to Hurricane Maria. Our team found the response by federal and Puerto Rican authorities  was still largely uncoordinated and poorly implemented, prolonging the humanitarian emergency on the ground. Thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep.

Two Months Since Hurricane Maria, Terrible Suffering Continues in Puerto Rico

Two Months Since Hurricane Maria, Terrible Suffering Continues in Puerto Rico

In short, two months after Hurricane Maria pummeled this island, the U.S. response remains too slow and bureaucratic, and lacks transparency and the broad information-sharing that is essential to an effective disaster response.

U.S. Leads International Disaster Assistance Abroad, So Why are We Failing at Home?

U.S. Leads International Disaster Assistance Abroad, So Why are We Failing at Home?

For the first time in its 38 year history, Refugees International (RI) is conducting a mission to the United States. Over the next week, my colleagues and I will be in Puerto Rico where eight weeks after Hurricane Maria made a direct hit, urgent humanitarian needs remain unmet.