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Unidos por Puerto Rico distributes nearly $38M for relief, recovery initiatives

Unidos por Puerto Rico has awarded $37.9 million in funds to 193 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to support relief and recovery efforts for hurricanes Irma and María, the entity announced.

Funds granted as of Aug. 31st have been distributed to five areas: water and food $3.8 million (10 percent); social wellbeing $7.5 million (19.7 percent); health $8.3 million (22 percent); economic development $7.7 million (20 percent) and the reconstruction and construction of homes $10.6 million (27 percent.)

“There are three stages in disaster management, relief, recovery and reconstruction.  The Unidos por Puerto Rico model grants funds for the first two phases to five areas,” Aurelio Alemán, chairman of the Unidos por Puerto Rico board said.

The nonprofit created by the government to receive donations in the wake of last year’s devastating Hurricane María. The entity has been the target of public criticism over the way the money has been distributed.

Unidos por Puerto Rico explained that the priority for the relief phase was to distribute food, build community kitchens, provide community outreach health alternatives, distribute basic supplies, generators and provide social and psychological support for those dealing with post-traumatic stress. During the second phase, the strategic support shifted to repairing structures, homes, providing access to primary health care, and economic development initiatives to mitigate and respond to hurricanes and activate community efforts throughout Puerto Rico.

The funds have been distributed throughout all of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities and have primarily addressed the most vulnerable groups: children, women who are heads of households, the disabled, the elderly, the homeless and small businesses, the nonprofit explained

“We channeled our aid funds through ONGs that are well aware of the needs of the populations they serve. Thus, we were able to rapidly channel aid where it was most needed,” said Mariely Rivera, executive director of Unidos por Puerto Rico.

She added there are “numerous lessons learned” a year after Unidos por Puerto Rico came to be. Unidos por Puerto Rico asked the ONGs that received grants to identify the main lessons and needs in disaster management and in supporting the recovery phase, and they said the following:

  • Provide for communication alternatives in the communities they serve, with government authorities and other ONGs in the region to leverage aid efforts;
  • Provide specialized trainings in how to activate volunteers to work in disaster recovery efforts;
  • Obtain strategic technical assistance in the design of competitive grant proposals and share best practices in managing aid efforts and programs;
  • Establish emergency funds to support matching funds required for access to some disaster recovery programs;
  • The need to strengthen alliances among ONGs to expand their reach in relief and recovery efforts is a recurrent theme among the organizations that have been active in disaster management and recovery efforts;
  • A serious obstacle to recovery efforts is the lack of property titles and the denial of federal aid for this reason. It is an ongoing obstacle to recovery that has been addressed through awards for legal aid to those who lack property titles. Also, the need to facilitate a permit process that is agile to rebuild homes; and,
  • Community health outreach initiatives are a pressing need, particularly for those sectors that were isolated by the hurricanes and remained with little or no access to basic services for months.

Communicating aid efforts
Rivera said a parallel effort to the work of grant awards and monitoring has been the need to communicate these efforts to donors. More than 95 percent of the funds came from outside Puerto Rico, from foundations, individuals and companies.

“To be accountable in a cost-effective manner to our donors, we have recurred to a monthly news bulletin that is sent to registered donors. The information is also available at our website and in our Facebook page,” Rivera said.

“A year after Hurricane María, we also considered it important that the people of Puerto Rico be informed of how donations were distributed. Several media outlets donated their space to include a public announcement on these efforts,” she said.

As to one of the most important learnings from Hurricane María is that “we are all much more aware of the needs of our people. The Unidos por Puerto Rico website has an interactive map of Puerto Rico where you can see which ONGs are in each municipality and what are the areas that they work with,” added Rivera.

“We have supported nearly 200 ONGs and they have done an extraordinary job in responding to the disaster in very difficult conditions,” said Rivera.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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