In the year 2017, the world witnessed several natural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires, among other acts of God.

The devastating Category 4 storm, Hurricane Maria, that hit Puerto Rico last September is particularly unforgettable. The federal government’s response in the aftermath was largely considered to be inadequate.

Because Puerto Rico’s classification as a U.S. territory makes it part of the United States, disaster response in the region remains under the U.S. government’s purview.

It now appears that the number of people who died was initially underreported. The updated, confirmed official death toll from Hurricane Maria is 64. However, a report to Congress from the Puerto Rican government that included details of a multi-million-dollar reconstruction project mitigates this number.

The report stipulates that there were 1,400 more deaths than initially reported between September and December 2017.

Many non-governmental organizations, including Islamic Relief USA, participated in disaster relief efforts on the island. Islamic Relief USA provided water, food, and raised funds through an online emergency campaign.

IRUSA’s Disaster Response Team, led by Hani Hamwi, then returned to Puerto Rico between June 17 and 21, 2018, to continue similar work alongside its partner, The Lions Club.

While the assistance of non-governmental organizations is undoubtedly valuable, those who experience disasters of this magnitude stress the necessity of help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In the case of Hurricane Maria, officials were grateful for FEMA’s response and assistance.

Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto, mayor of San Juan, said this was particularly true when it came to FEMA’s providing diesel-fueled generators.

Yet earlier this year, it was reported that FEMA would be ending its provisions of food and water to Puerto Rico, despite stern recommendations by the island’s mayor that it is far too early for FEMA to scale back its relief operations.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida), whose own state saw natural disaster-related damage last fall in the wake of Hurricane Irma, called FEMA’s decision “disastrous.” Nelson urged the agency to remain in Puerto Rico and to continue providing direct assistance.

“It’s unconscionable and it’s a travesty,” Nelson added.

FEMA said it would continue to provide support to local non-profits, if necessary. Some FEMA workers are still on the island. However, the agency has transferred much of its daily work to non-profit organizations and FEMA attempts to transition it’s role from disaster response to recovery.

Due to finite resources, aid agencies often face the dilemma of whether to stay long-term in disaster areas after initial rescue efforts. There is no hard and fast rule; project circumstances vary, making decision-making a challenging balancing act.

Islamic Relief USA has focused heavily in the last year on world-wide disaster response.

IRUSA continues to accept donations for Puerto Rico relief efforts, as well as donations that benefit other Latin American nations. For more information, visit

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