Reading #Maria through a #globaldev lens

At the end of August I started curating interesting resources that linked hurricane Harvey to broader questions of international development and humanitarian issues (Reading #Harvey through a #globaldev lens). My idea was to highlight how debates and issues the aid industry has been discussing for many years and crises are framed in the context of the so-called developed world when a disaster hits the United States of America.
What I did not know then, unfortunately, was that Harvey would not be the only humanitarian disaster to affect the region-Maria followed very shortly after.

This time another American territory is affected among other islands many of which still have links to European countries through various statuses as overseas territories. So new questions are emerging in the aftermath of a natural disaster of how 'them' and 'us' are linked, how humanitarian challenges are not just an issue of the 'North' helping the 'South' and how questions of development thinking and research are becoming even more important as climate change creates a truly global community of suffering, resilience and connected support.

Hurricane response: Caribbean disaster agency comes of age

Jackson said CDEMA’s budget planned for three crises in the year, but that September had more or less sapped the whole year’s planned expenditure. With a core team of 21 and an emergency operations budget of only about $1.5 million, new funding was needed, he said. CDEMA has played a leading role on several islands this year. Arthurs himself had been providing support in the British Virgin Islands. Overall, hundreds of civilian, police and military personnel have been deployed under CDEMA’s coordination.

Ben Parker from IRIN is reporting from the Caribbean.

Why would anyone in Puerto Rico want a hurricane? Because someone will get rich.

The paradox of these Caribbean societies is that their economic challenges are often masked by an appearance of prosperity. Despite their relatively high incomes, places like Guiana, an overseas department of France, and Puerto Rico struggle with inflated prices for basic goods because of steep transportation costs from their colonial centers and restrictive legislation, such as the Jones Act, which limits their ability to engage in more favorable trade. This means many materials necessary for storm preparation — storm windows, generators, battery-powered electronics — carry price tags that are prohibitive for many. This spring, residents of Guiana sustained an 11-day mass strike to protest the economic hardship and social insecurity experienced by residents who feel ignored and abandoned by their government across the ocean.
Yarimar Bonilla for the Washington Post on Caribbean disaster capitalism and colonial pasts and presents.

The Cruelest Storm: A Statement for Puerto Rico

The manner in which aid delivered to Puerto Rico has been confiscated and controlled by FEMA, along with the refusal to assist Puerto Rico in a manner similar to that offered to mainland localities affected by Hurricane Irma, for example, shapes our interpretation of this event. It subjects the inhabitants of a territory in crisis to the limits of what a federal agency is willing to do, and denies aid that may come from other countries at this critical time. Beyond the paternalism that this implies, it turns Puerto Ricans into hostages of their colonial condition.
'A collective of Puerto Rican intellectuals and their fellow supporters, mostly academics teaching in the U.S. and spearheaded by Aurea María Sotomayor (University of Pittsburgh), have put together a statement that they would like friends and associates in the U.S. media to publish, discuss, and disseminate.'

Puerto Rico Was Undergoing a Humanitarian Crisis Long Before Hurricane Maria

As this latest humanitarian crisis unfolds and the death toll climbs thanks to a lack of clean water, electricity, and fuel to power existing homes and hospitals, it is impossible to go back to the status quo or accept any more false "promises." To address the political and economic disaster that was there before Maria and break the very cycle of catastrophe—enduring poverty, political subjugation, mass migration—action needs to be aimed at not simply "rebuilding" the old structure, but also on rethinking the entire edifice. Otherwise, Puerto Rico will likely go back to being yet another invisible disaster set up to repeat itself.
Frances Negrón-Muntaner for the Pacific Standard on how the
Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act has played a powerful in (mis)governing Puerto Rico and its relationship with mainland US.

In the Caribbean, colonialism and inequality mean hurricanes hit harder

When storms threaten, such policies and practices intensify the Caribbean’s societal and ecological risks. Irma and Maria are surely not the last extreme disasters that will strike the region. To survive and flourish in this dangerous new normal, Caribbean countries would do well to look to the heart of these issues, rethinking the concept of risk and mindfully engaging with factors like poverty, gender and climate change.
Levi Gahman and Gabrielle Thongs with a piece for The Conversation that already appeared on 20 September while Maria was still causing damage and had not reached Puerto Rico yet.

America never deserved Puerto Rico
Lost on them is the fact that citizenship was essentially forced on us, as the island's four-hundred year history as a territory of Spain came to an end in the Spanish-American War and the United States annexed Puerto Rico, valued at the time for its strategic location and sugar crops. Citizenship came nearly twenty years later, as a result of the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917, which, if you'll note the year, immediately preceded the US entry into World War I, and conveniently made Puerto Ricans eligible for service in the armed forces while introducing largely empty accoutrements of self-governance. That the United States government denied the island any form of self-determination—the local government that was permitted to form in 1950 could not vote for independence or statehood, only whether to remain a colony or gain commonwealth status.
Joshua Rivera for GQ with one of what I expect many more articles that address colonial pasts and impact on the current crisis for many islands.

“What can I do?”

If this is the life you want, go for it. It’s a good life in many ways. Similarly lots of information around about what the life is like, how to get a job in the aid industry, and all of that. But for me, on this issue, the operative point is make the commitments necessary to become a full-time professional humanitarian. Don’t volunteer for two weeks. Don’t go to Mexico to build a church. Don’t start or work at an orphanage in Uganda or Cambodia. This is a full-time job, a life choice. Make the commitments or don’t make them.
J.'s post was written before this year's hurricane season but remains every bit relevant.

3 October
Politicians 'distributing aid' is usually a very cheap PR stunt-now imagine 45 doing it...

Oxfam criticizes US government response in Puerto Rico

"Oxfam has a long history of holding governments, including in the US, accountable to protect the most vulnerable in times of crisis," Scott Paul, humanitarian policy lead for Oxfam America, said in a statement to CNN. "Sometimes, that means helping them hold the government accountable, and in Puerto Rico, accountability is sorely needed."
Caroline Kenny for CNN with the story of how Oxfam engages with 'Third World America'...

10 October
Mark Zuckerberg took his VR avatar to Puerto Rico, and it was just so awkward

The juxtaposition of Zuckerberg's avatar bobbing around hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico was indeed weird, but seeing him try to transition to the next stop on his virtual tour was even more cringeworthy.
After an awkward exchange about how the duo felt like they were really in Puerto Rico, filled with uncomfortable pauses and Zuck grabbing the virtual camera to show viewers the "completely flooded" street, the Facebook founder asks his coworker if she wants to "teleport" somewhere else.
"Maybe back to California?" Franklin said with a nervous laugh, and soon the two were on their way to San Jose to stand on stage at last year's Oculus Connect 3 VR conference.
Alison Main for Mashable. Creating meaningful humanitarian engagement through VR requires a bit more to make it work other than sending digital avatars to a disaster zone... 

12 October
Barbuda: Hurricane-hit paradise for sale?

Under a state of emergency and disarray among the people and local representatives in the Barbuda Council, critics say the national government may try to overturn Barbuda’s unique communal land system.
The central government of the twin island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is proposing a form of land privatisation. Prime Minister Gaston Browne says the minority population of Barbuda can’t properly rebuild and develop without introducing private land ownership.

Speaking to IRIN, veteran Barbudan politician and activist Hilbourne Frank said the Antiguan-dominated government is using “underhand methods” to “compel” privatisation in the wake of the hurricane.
This means “serious trouble”, he said, and will threaten the cultural heritage of the island as well as Barbuda’s long-standing autonomy. “In the end, we are going to be controlled by other people,” he argued.
Ben Parker for IRIN. I am filing this under 'Maria' although 'Irma' caused the damage in Barbuda.
But the underlying development issues and the complexities of Caribbean history that are coming to light now in the aftermath of natural disasters are important to highlight. So is IRIN's engagement and continuous reporting from the area!

21 October
Puerto Rico: when it rains, it pours

Puerto Rico was an important hub, in particular, for big pharmaceutical firms like Pfizer, which have kept many of their investments on the island even after ‘936’ was gradually ended. But Puerto Rico is no longer competitive in areas where 75-80% of expenses come from payroll costs. Puerto Rico needs to move up into higher-value manufacturing and services. It has a large number of educated bilingual workers. There is potential to turn the economy into a modern hi-tech service sector. But that would require government investment and state-run firms democratically controlled by Puerto Ricans. It’s the Chinese model, if you like.
Puerto Rico is a small island that was exploited by the US and foreign multi-nationals with citizens’ tax bills siphoned off to pay interest on ever increasing debt, while reducing social welfare – all at the encouragement of foreign investment banks making huge fees for doing so. Now Puerto Ricans are being asked to keep on paying for the foreseeable future after a decade of recession and cuts in living standards to meet obligations to vulture funds and US institutions. And the troops will be sent into ensure that! When it rains, it pours.
Michael Roberts with a detailed look at the political economy of Puerto Rico around 'underdevelopment', globalization and classic center-periphery relationships!

6 December
Democracy and Disaster: Pakistan in Bangladesh (1970) and Trump in Puerto Rico (2017)
Trump’s mismanaged response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico immediately brought to mind the political ineptitude of the Pakistani government’s management of the 1970 Bhola cyclone in Bangladesh / East Pakistan.
The parallels between the responses of the authoritarian government of Pakistan, under General Yahya Khan, and those of the elected (although not by the population of Puerto Rico) government of the United States, under Trump, are striking enough.
Naomi Hossain for History Workshop with a new angle to compare 'Western' and 'Southern' (non-)responses to humanitarian crises.

18 December

Colonialism’s Orchestrated Disasters in Puerto Rico
Decolonization has been the aim for many of us. This catastrophe evidences that decolonization is not something we ask for. It is not something initiated by the oppressor. Decolonization is an act, it is a state of being, it is an exercise not a plea. Since the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) was signed, which basically handed over Puerto Rico’s finances to corporate interests in the United States without the people’s consent, we have been in the midst of decolonial process. The aftermath of this hurricane is a new and difficult part of it. We need accountability and transparency, but in true Boricua form, we know we should not expect it. We will demand accountability while simultaneously auto-gestionando (self-managing) our communities. Communities that are not bounded by that “big water.” These communities stretch the entire globe, and wherever Diasporicans live, there Puerto Rico lives.
Isa Rodríguez Soto for Anthropology News links the developments in Puerto Rico to the growing debates around 'decolonization'!


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