Immediate and long-term relief: the response of Catholic agencies to the disasters of 2021

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Nicolas Bey, 11, kisses his father, Sayyid Bey, upon seeing a donated trailer they were using near Beatty, Ore. On July 19, 2021, after their home was set on fire in the Bootleg fire. (CNS Photo / David Ryder, Reuters)

By Tom Tracy

Until December, the extreme weather events and natural disasters of 2021 continued to upset local communities and establish programs for domestic and foreign emergency response efforts in major Catholic aid organizations.

“We had about 85 disasters” in the United States last year, said Kim Burgo, vice president of disaster operations for Catholic Charities USA.

“Charitable agencies don’t just respond to a disaster because it was declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” she said, noting that her agencies are also responding to local events, such as flooding, that affect local communities.

Burgo is part of a four-person team monitoring disasters and helping to collaborate with local affiliates where possible. She said wildfires on the west coast and major storms such as Hurricane Ida were top disaster priorities last year, along with flooding, tornadoes and winter storms in the Midwest. and the South.

“We don’t have unlimited resources, so we have to be careful with the funds we have, but we don’t deny any disaster from a (local) agency, and even the smallest are important to the local community” Burgo says Catholic News A service.

Catholic Charities USA supports the local disaster response with financial assistance, technical support and, in the event of Hurricane Ida coming ashore in late August in Louisiana, the virtual deployment of case managers as a wave coronavirus was complicating logistics.

For Hurricane Ida, Catholic Charities estimates that local agencies helped 10,000 families through gift cards and meals and more than one million pounds of merchandise.

“We have a ton of relationships with other disaster organizations that also provide different services,” said Burgo, noting that the hurricane had elicited an immediate and sustained response.

Often times the response at the local level can take five to seven years, and there are many places in the country that have pre-existing economic problems, “so you end up with a bad hurricane or a tornado in a place where they don’t. never really recover until the next one comes, and you end up with a constant state of recovery, ”she said.

An unusual addition to the 2021 history books was the deadly Surfside condominium collapse near Miami in late June. The 12-story residential collapse of the Champlain Towers left 98 people dead. It also left many survivors displaced over the following months.

“It was an absolute tragedy, and Catholic Charities was there to meet mental health needs, help people rebuild their lives and join an assistance consortium to help people get their medication and funeral expenses for their loved ones. through case management, ”said Burgo.

In Washington, Oregon and California, Catholic Charities continues to manage wildfire recovery efforts resulting from the 2018 incidents, as new wildfires threatened those same states.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 also prompted disaster response planners to think outside the box, realizing they could not rely on the model of placing survivors in massive shelters. Instead, they decided to put fewer people in more shelters or even hotel rooms.

Additionally, people seeking help were unable to enter charity outreach offices due to social distancing, so there has been a continuous shift towards distribution sites, distributions, and outreach. virtual case management programs.

And the second year of the pandemic continued to wreak economic havoc on communities as people lost their jobs and housing became scarce and more expensive.

“The cost of housing, the availability of housing, the eviction issues. The poor and the vulnerable are most at risk, and it all goes beyond just water delivery: these are the complicated problems you try to solve every day, ”said Burgo.

Beyond the American borders, there was an earthquake in August in Haiti complicated by a deterioration of the political and security situation in this Caribbean country. A typhoon in December hit the Philippines and summer flooding wreaked havoc in Germany and Belgium, while China, India, Nepal and Indonesia suffered various floods, volcanoes and cyclones.

Kim Pozniak, senior director of global communications at Catholic Relief Services, said that in the past year CRS spent around $ 380 million on emergency response programs, which represented 42% of total spending. annuals. The funds were dedicated to comprehensive relief and recovery efforts in response to natural and man-made emergencies in 60 countries, benefiting 15.8 million people.

In Central Asia, CRS expects that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 and the worst drought in recent history – made worse by the effects of the pandemic – is likely to lead to a hunger crisis involving 23 million people at risk of starvation.

“This coincides with the onset of the winter lean season, when food supplies from crops are depleted and families face shortages even in the best years. But this year, winter threatens extraordinary hardship and widespread loss of life, especially among young children, ”Pozniak told CNS.

In Madagascar, more than one million people struggle with food insecurity after several years of drought attributed to climate change. Carla Fajardo, CRS representative in Madagascar, said the region suffers from several simultaneous crises, including extreme drought, sandstorms, locust invasions and pests. The region not only suffers from a lack of rain, but when it does arrive, the rain is unpredictable, he noted.

And in the Sahelian region of Africa, between the Sahara and the Sudanese savannahs, a cycle of relentless violence has displaced some 2 million people in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger.

“Bloodshed and violent displacement will only improve if we restore trust between and within communities while partnering with local leaders to provide life-saving care to the 14.4 million people in need,” said Pat Williams, CRS program manager for the Sahel Peace Initiative.

Pozniak said that despite the ongoing pandemic, donations to CRS have been significant and that while the lockdowns and restrictions may have changed the way people connect, the underlying fundamentals have not changed.

“In general, our donors are motivated by their faith and they give generously in times of emergency, especially when media coverage of an emergency increases. We also benefit from generous funds from public and institutional donors, ”she said.

But even with this support, she fears that “not enough attention or funding is directed to urgent crises that are far from the spotlight and that essential resources will not be sufficient to meet humanitarian needs in many areas.”


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