Floodwaters have long receded and much of the rubble has been cleared, but families living in Rockport, Texas, and Oaxaca, Mexico, still face a slow and difficult recovery after a summer of record-breaking natural disasters.
With support from generous donors, the Humanitarian Assistance & Resilience Unit (HARU) at Project Concern International (PCI) mobilized response teams and formed strategic partnerships to help address the immediate needs of vulnerable populations in both areas.
After Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 26, 33 Texas counties were declared federal disasters, more than 185,000 homes were damaged, and at least 40,000 people took refuge in shelters. PCI partnered with AmeriCares to work in these emergency shelters, providing health interventions, medical supplies, and interpretation support for non-English speaking individuals in need of medical assistance.
PCI also partnered with St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) of Rockport, Texas, a charitable organization whose own facilities were damaged by the Category 4 storm. Together, the nonprofits focused on identifying and helping some of the area’s most vulnerable populations, including elderly individuals (65+); pregnant and lactating women; persons with disabilities; and renters without renter’s insurance who lost housing.
Seven two-person teams of SVdP volunteers used maps identifying poverty levels to canvas selected communities across Rockport, conduct home visits, and interview hurricane victims about their most pressing needs. Funds to cover daily expenses—from rent and medical costs to school supplies and fuel—were deemed to be of greatest importance.
PCI and SVdP then collaborated to provide unconditional cash transfers to affected households, using pre-paid Visa cards. This strategy empowered individuals with the decision of how to best use the funds to support their families in a timely manner.
“The enormity of the needs encountered in contrast to the high spirits of those who, in many cases, had lost everything, was most inspiring,” said Patrick Ebarb, president of SVdP in Rockport. “… In several situations, the cards offered were turned down as the interviewees referred the teams to neighbors who were thought to be in more critical need than themselves.”
Altogether, PCI and SVdP were able to assist a total of 179 people with direct cash transfers, including 39 homeless families; 51 uninsured families; 21 persons with disabilities; and 41 elderly individuals.
Lynne Woods, a local SVdP volunteer who helped visit affected neighborhoods and deliver the Visa cards, described the experience as heartbreaking but hopeful.
“There is so much need and so much devastation, but tomorrow is another day,” she said. “… Helping others is helping us heal also.”
The magnitude 8.2 earthquake that shook southern Mexico on Sept. 7 was the most powerful to hit the country in a century, claiming nearly 100 lives and damaging more than 121,000 homes in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Tabasco. Of that number, 19,000 were classified as totally collapsed and 30,000 as unusable.
Teams from PCI Guatemala and PCI Mexico traveled to Oaxaca, one of the hardest hit and most impoverished areas in the region, to help take stock of the devastation and coordinate a response strategy with CEMEX. After visiting four heavily damaged towns, PCI and CEMEX chose to work with and support the municipality of Asunción Ixtaltepec, where thousands of homes, businesses and public structures had been severely affected by the earthquake.
Over a ten-day period, PCI trained the municipality of Ixtaltepec to carry out an assessment using PCI’s disaster management information system and to collect the data necessary to meet affected families’ immediate needs. As of mid-October, over 1,500 households had been assessed using a 50-item online mobile tool. More than half were completely destroyed, 24.3% were partially destroyed, and the rest were classified as damaged. The municipality is using this information to help plan reconstruction efforts and to request subsidies from the Mexican federal government for affected families.
PCI also mobilized its partner, Build Change, to dispatch a team of engineers to assess the reasons behind the level of damage (e.g. construction practices, building materials, etc.). The team analyzed 91 houses and found older structures, mainly built out of unreinforced construction systems such as brick or earth, collapsed at a much higher rate than other homes in the area. This data will inform PCI’s recommendations to municipal and national government stakeholders and the private sector on how best to support rebuilding safer houses.
With AmeriCares, PCI also carried out a rapid health assessment to determine immediate and short-term needs for medical supplies, medical personnel and health facilities. Based on this assessment, PCI and its partners are now focusing on developing a joint action plan to assist with mid- to long-term needs. This will include systems strengthening for the Ministry of Health and addressing unmet mental health needs that have resulted from the trauma of the earthquake and its aftershocks.