27 September 2017

Should the UN Send Aid to Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands?

Puerto Rico (and the U.S. Virgin Islands) is/are in the midst of a calamitous humanitarian disaster.
Today, 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico are without power. (100,000 people in the U.S. Virgin Islands of Saint Croix, Saint Thomas and Saint John are in a similar condition)
Water supplies are running low. Fuel shortages are rampant. Communication lines are unreliable. Much of the agriculture and infrastructure is destroyed. People are stranded and vulnerable.
Under these circumstances, the United Nations would typically activate it’s emergency response systems. This includes sending in telecoms specialists to restore communications, set up shelter, and distribute food and other relief supplies.
But since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, the United States must first request the help. And so far, Washington has not asked for it. So, for now, the UN is not participating in the relief efforts in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands.
[This is a long-held mis-perception. According to the U.S. Constitution, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are not part of the U.S, but rather "owned by" the U.S. The U.S. Virgin Islands, in particular, is formally recognised by the U.N. as a 'non-self-governing territory,' one of 17 such dependencies scheduled to be reviewed by the U.N. Fourth Committee on 4th October 2017. The U.S. 'citizenship' of  the people of these territories is a conditional citizenship, and is devoid of political rights in the U.S. political system. There is no vote for the U.S. president, non-voting status in the U.S. House of Representatives, and no representation in the U.S. Senate.]
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, however, the UN humanitarian response operations are fully underway. In all, 19 countries or territories have been affected by these storms. Several of these countries are lower income and do not have the capacity to respond on their own, hence the international relief effort.  After Hurricane Irma hit, the UN set up a logistics base in Barbuda from which relief items, including food aid, have been distributed across the Caribbean.

UN teams are also on the ground in some of the hardest hit countries, like Dominica where 80% of the population has been displaced.

So while it is unlikely (?) that the UN would mount a response to the catastrophe in Puerto Rico (and the US Virgin Islands), it is the case that the international humanitarian response is very much underway elsewhere in the region.
[Both territories belong to various U.N. bodies. Puerto Rico belongs to PAHO whilst both dependencies are longstanding associate members of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and have access to a range of U.N. programmes, in principle. 
U.N. General Assembly resolutions for over a decade have supported the participation of the US Virgin Islands in the programmes of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)].

Implementation of the Decolonization Declaration by the 
specialized agencies and the international institutions associated 
with the United Nations


The United Nations General Assembly,
Requests the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system concerned to provide information on:
(a) Environmental problems facing the Non-Self-Governing Territories;
(b) The impact of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, and other environmental problems, such as beach and coastal erosion and droughts, on those Territories; 
Recommends that all Governments intensify their efforts through the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system of which they are members to accord priority to the question of providing assistance to the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories; 
Urges those specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system that have not yet provided assistance to Non-Self-Governing Territories to do so as soon as possible; 
Requests the specialized agencies and other organizations and institutions of the United Nations system and regional organizations to strengthen existing measures of support and formulate appropriate programmes of assistance to the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, within the framework of their respective mandates, in order to accelerate progress in the economic and social sectors of those Territories; 

Donald Trump criticised for silence over Puerto Rico disaster

Hillary Clinton calls on President to deploy navy after Hurricane Maria wreaks havoc.

Donald Trump has been criticised for his silence after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, whose 3.4 million inhabitants are US citizens.
At least 13 people are dead and the entire country remains without power after the worst storm for decades hit the island nation on Wednesday.
Many of the country’s hospitals are dependent on diesel generators, and patients have been flown to the US for treatment.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, meaning its inhabitants have qualified US citizenship, and it is entitled to federal emergency funds.Officials in the country fear there may be more devastation to come, if the large dam along the Guajatacata River fails. Up to 70,000 people who live within the river's flood plain have been told to leave their homes.  
President Trump's Twitter feed was characteristically active over the weekend – but he didn't find time to post anything about the island's plight.
A number of users expressed anger Mr Trump seemed more concerned about a series of protests by NFL players over racial injustice in the country.