The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico has become so dire and the U.S. response so slow that international aid organizations built to deliver aid to third-world countries are stepping in, bringing satellite phones and disaster equipment with them.
Oxfam, an international organization dedicated to relieving global poverty, said Tuesday it was “outraged” at the Trump administration’s response and that in an unprecedented move it had sent a team in to help. The global organization’s goal is to eradicate poverty, and it is set up to help in hotspots around the world. It says it rarely works in the United States and other wealthy countries.
But the situation in Puerto Rico has drawn other international organizations better known their work in humanitarian crises such as Save the Children, International Medical Corps, and Mercy Corps. All three of those organizations have operations in Yemen, Iraq, and South Sudan — now all three are on the ground in Puerto Rico. Unlike Oxfam, those organizations have provided hurricane relief in the past, but sending aid to the United States is rare because there typically isn’t a need.
Oxfam announced its deployments to the American territory as President Trump touched down in Puerto Rico for the first time since Maria hit nearly two weeks ago. Ensconced on a National Guard air base, Trump said Puerto Rico had “thrown our budget a little out of whack,” though added it was “fine.”
Oxfam American President Abby Maxman said their deployment was based on that organization’s assessment of the need, and in spite of America’s capacity to cope.
“Oxfam rarely responds to humanitarian emergencies in the U.S. and other wealthy countries, but as the situation in Puerto Rico worsens and the federal government’s response continues to falter, Oxfam has decided to step in to lend our expertise in dealing with some of the world’s most catastrophic disasters,” Maxman said in a statement Tuesday.
“The U.S. has more than enough resources to mobilize an emergency response but has failed to do so in a swift and robust manner,” she said.
Oxfam will specifically work to help rural communities who entirely cut off from aid and at risk of disease, as well as work with Puerto Rican leaders and urge Congress to facilitate more resources.
Scott Paul, Oxfam’s senior humanitarian policy advisor told VICE News that the organization typically wasn’t needed in in wealthy or middle income countries where the federal government and civil society efforts were enough. But this time, the relief efforts “didn’t match the need in Puerto Rico.”
Greg Ramm, vice president of humanitarian response for Save the Children told VICE News the organization had received four times more donations for Hurricane Harvey than for Maria despite the fact the needs for Puerto Rico were “extraordinary.”
“The is unprecedented,” said Ramm, adding they had never needed to send staff into the United States with satellite phones and other disaster equipment typically used for remote relief operations.
The federal government’s responses for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria have been different. Over 31,000 personnel from FEMA, other federal agencies, and the National Guard were deployed “within days,” to help Texans, according to FEMA. While in Puerto Rico, over 10,000 personnel were deployed as of Friday, according to FEMA’s latest report. Trump requested $7.8 billion from Congress after Hurricane Harvey, and still hasn’t submitted a request for Puerto Rico.
A spokesperson for FEMA told VICE News that Puerto Rico could be eligible for more aid grants to help with permanent reconstruction, known as C-G assistance, as damage assessments continue.
In the latest estimates, just 6 percent of Puerto Rico’s power grid has been rebuilt, hospitals still don’t have fuel and electricity they need, and rural areas have extremely limited access to healthcare and clean water, making them a breeding a ground for disease.