We could not have imagined that within just a few shorts weeks the world would endure the devastation of three major hurricanes in the Atlantic basin and multiple earthquakes across the region. These natural disasters have put an immense strain on international humanitarian relief efforts. The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund has made appeals to support the recovery in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, and continues to monitor the urgent recovery needs in Puerto Rico and other areas facing dire situations. The B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief project is also closely following the evolving needs of the Jewish community in Cuba, where Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 5 storm on Friday, Sept. 8.
Hurricane Irma was the first Category 5 storm to make landfall in Cuba since 1932. B’nai B’rith International learned quickly from our partners on the ground that the damage was severe, and the impact devastating. Storm surge pushed about a third of a mile inland into low-lying neighborhoods and adjoining towns, and two of the synagogues in Havana took on water. Immediately, power, gas and water services were affected.
Although thousands of people were evacuated, innumerable buildings suffered partial or total damage. Medicines, foodstuffs and other basic necessities were difficult to locate or afford before Hurricane Irma, and the crisis in these realms continues to worsen, despite a coordinated international humanitarian response. A United Nations report says between 210,000 and 220,000 homes were severely damaged, agricultural crops and livestock hit hard and 14 municipalities from the northern coast of Villa Clara province east to Camagüey critically impacted.
While the flood waters have receded, the hardest hit provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara—three of which maintain active Jewish communities—are still facing interruptions to electrical service nearly a month after the storm.
Compounding the devastation left in Irma’s wake are new travel regulations announced by the Trump administration and their chilling effect on travel by Americans. While much of the enterprises catering to tourists in and around the capital of Havana have been repaired, Cuba has seen a marked drop in U.S. visitors during what is traditionally recognized as the high season. Tourism being the largest factor in the Cuban economy, it is anticipated that these new regulations—particularly during this time of crisis—will stymie recovery efforts even further.
It will take a long time for Cuba to recover from this natural disaster. In an immediate response to the challenges on the ground, the Cuban Jewish Relief Project, in partnership with the Disaster Relief Fund, mobilized over 50,000 water purification tablets for distribution to those affected by water outages. We continue to coordinate with our partners on the ground to assess the damage and the long-term needs of the community.
If you would like to help the Cuban Jewish Relief Project and our recovery efforts, please consider a contribution and Donate Now
Sienna Girgenti is the Assistant Director for the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and Director of the Cuban Jewish Relief Project at B'nai B'rith International. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
“The Disaster Relief Fund is open and needs support. Help us be ready by donating to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/bbi-disaster-relief.”
You may have seen that sentence in a news release or an appeal from B’nai B’rith. In a recent two month period, the fund was opened to support assistance to victims of flooding in Texas and the earthquake in Nepal.
Technically, the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund is always open—we gratefully accept donations to our general disaster fund that are not designated for a specific disaster, because we know that there is no date on the calendar to plan for when these natural disasters occur. Disasters that are man-made, such as terrorist attacks, will occur with no science to understand them.
Since the mid 1800s, B’nai B’rith got involved in responding to disasters with the creation of our Disaster Relief Fund. Domestically and across the globe, the fund provides money to assist victims of a disaster via partners in the community or for the first responders who travel there to provide their expertise for the emergency.
The impact of any disaster is devastating, but a disaster hitting poor, heavily populated areas makes the devastation more devastating as much of these locations already have overloaded services that are dealing with the underserved population.
B’nai B’rith is ready to respond once a disaster occurs. A committee comprised of volunteer leaders and staff reviews the information about the disaster that has occurred and determines the need to allocate funds. An appeal is made for donations to enable our response. We receive requests for funding assistance from local community leaders, or we seek out partners in the area that has been impacted.
We dedicate much of our response to “unmet needs,” which may not have already been provided by others. We also know that there are phases of a disaster that will meet our criteria, at the beginning of the emergency, during recovery efforts and finally, rebuilding.
Long after a disaster has been in the headlines, there is need for assistance. Some distributions are completed in a month, and some have taken up to five years for the project that has been allocated to reach completion.
B’nai B’rith’s history of providing disaster relief is part of our core mission of humanitarian aid. As anniversaries of major disasters come along, we often reflect on the impact of the funds provided by our donors.
For example, in April 1995 the B’nai B’rith Disaster Fund provided scholarships to the children of government workers who were killed in the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
Twenty years later, these children are grown, still missing a parent, but they have had assistance with their education by people who cared about them enough to make a donation.
Since that disaster, B’nai B’rith has supported many other projects in the United States and around the world, providing close to $3 million in assistance projects.
The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund is always open.
We cannot predict the future or know where help will be needed, but you can help us be ready to respond today.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai B'rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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