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Responding in the Wake of the Storm: Hurricane Matthew Relief and Environmental Racism
Responding in the Wake of the Storm: Hurricane Matthew Relief and Environmental Racism

By Kwanique Andrews

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016 will be a day that will never be forgotten in South Haiti. About 90 percent of the area that Hurricane Matthew struck was completely destroyed, affecting residents in a variety of ways. Due to the destruction, the people living in these areas are now facing issues such as homelessness, limited supply of food and water, and in many cases coping with the loss of a loved one. Although it is now February of 2017, Haiti is still in desperate need of new homes, aid to help rebuild basic infrastructure, and supply of food and water. Due to the lack of support and media coverage, it is clear there is something bigger occurring.

Destruction in Haiti following Hurricane Matthew

Destruction in Haiti following Hurricane Matthew

The Racial Justice Initiative at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) focused on environmental racism and how it is common for catastrophic events to go unnoticed when specific groups of people, such as people of color, are being affected. Environmental racism can be defined as a type of discrimination where people of low-income or minority communities are forced to live in close proximity of environmentally hazardous or degraded conditions such as toxic waste, pollution and/or urban decay.

On December 15, 2016 we conducted an awareness event on responding to how this natural disaster is a perfect example of environmental racism. The event consisted of five panelists: Michael Kourabas, Jean Claude Lindor, Linda Salcfas, David Taxiera, and Jean Pierre-Louis.

Michael Kourabas, Associate Director for Program and Partner Support at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Michael Kourabas

Michael Kourabas

  • Associate Director for Program and Partner Support at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
  • Support services to UU programs and grassroots partners
  • Promotes UUSC’s grant making process
  • Currently overseeing work done in Haiti and the Philippines
  • Focus areas are on communities left out by mainstream relief organizations in natural disasters i.e. women, children, LGBTQ individuals.
  • Focuses on capacity building and livelihood development
  • Crisis in the Southwest of the Dominican Republic helping individuals of Haitian descent raised in the DR (i.e. racism and discrimination within DR toward Haitian persons)
Jean Claude Lindor, a partner with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Haiti

Jean Claude Lindor

Jean Claude Lindor

  • A partner with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Haiti
  • Worked in Haiti in 2010 during the earthquake as well as 2016 during the hurricane
  • Raised money or women, children, trauma relief, agriculture reform and displaced communities

When Michael was asked if he believed a form of racism and/or environmental racism was present in terms of Haiti receiving minimal coverage by the media, Michael explained he believed Haiti was receiving lack of coverage and support due to “Haiti Fatigue” – stemming from Haiti having received a large amount of support and money in 2010. He believes Haiti is experiencing environmental racism due to the fact that the country has been hit with natural disasters before yet are still unable to access resources because of discriminatory policies, set in place by the group that represent the country, that keep it from being able to properly access resources.

The next speaker on the panel was Linda Salcfas. 

Linda Salcfas, Emergency Management Director for FEMA

Linda Salcfas

Linda Salcfas

  • Emergency management director for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • Part of Regional II offices providing relief to New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
  • Emergency relief consists of medical supplies, food, water and heating blankets

Linda was also asked if she believed racism was a reason Haiti was no longer receiving support. She explained people believe when there are groups of people who are impoverished that their impoverishment is due to their lack of capability and should not receive further assistance unless it is from their own people, government, etc.

The next panelist was David Taxiera a medically discharged veteran. David had provided aid to Haiti during the 2010 earthquake and is familiar with successful methods in helping others.

David Taxiera, member of Team Rubicon

David Taxiera

David Taxiera

  • Member of Team Rubicon
  • Travel anywhere in the world within two-three (2-3) business days
  • Provide support such as food, medical supplies, build housing and learning how to help people in lasting ways  to areas in need not covered by the media

When asked why Team Rubicon was formed, he explained many veterans go into the army with a purpose and that purpose is to help people. When David and many other individuals in the army are discharged many feel they no longer have a purpose to fill. Thus, Team Rubicon was formed to help people worldwide in crisis. The first mission of Team Rubicon was to help displaced Haitian individuals born in the Dominican Republic that were forced to make a home in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake. Due to lack of jobs, the Dominican Republic government forced individuals of Haitian descent out of their homes and deported them to Haiti. Team Rubicon has grown to 40,000 veterans.

The last panelist was Jean Pierre-Louis an Executive Director of Capracare, a grassroots agency located in Haiti.

Jean Pierre-Louis, Executive Director and Founder of Capracare

Jean Pierre-Louis

Jean Pierre-Louis

  • Executive director of Capracare
  • Provides mental health services, trauma recovery, strategies on creating lasting food supplies
  • Teaching people in the community skills they need to build their community

When Jean Pierre Louis was asked if he believed racism played a part in Haiti not receiving the support it needed he explained yes but the lack of support came from Haiti as well as from the other counties. Jean Pierre explained if the Haitian government was smarter about who they create financial and political negotiations with, Haiti would be able to thrive on its own without help from others. Jean Pierre also explained since the 2010 earthquake people outside Haiti were not as supportive and felt as if they already did that they could to help the people of Haiti.

In conclusion, the event successfully created awareness and shared meaningful strategies on how to better prepare for natural disasters such as building housing from cement as opposed to wood and donating money to farmers to buy supplies and food to grow crops that will feed a village opposed to sending food that is limited and is only good for the moment. Through the example of Haiti, the event highlighted the ways that people of color hit by natural disasters do not receiving the proper support and care as individuals in New Jersey or New York City did when Sandy had took place. Although, Haiti has not been receiving the proper coverage, it is creating awareness as people learn how global warming is leading to the increase in natural disasters. Since light has been shined on environmental racism and the lack of support people of color receive during natural disasters, people are uniting. People are now helping one another and seeking to help those in need all over the world. We encourage our audiences to support and check for updates on the panelists and their organizations listed throughout the blog.


Kwanique Andrews is a Program Intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, working on the Racial Justice Initiative. She is also a Master's student at the Fordham University School of Social Work.

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