America’s governors, mayors and CEOs are forging ahead with climate change initiatives despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and commitment to reviving the coal industry. But a report published today sets out a roadmap that could quicken that pace and cut carbon emissions to 24% below 2005 levels by 2025 in the absence of federal leadership.
Many US states, cities and businesses have rallied around the Paris commitments since Donald Trump pulled out from the agreement in June 2017. The America’s Pledge on Climate initiative was set up the same year by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and California governor Jerry Brown to map “bottom up” US climate action.
The US is already almost halfway to meeting its 2025 Paris Agreement emissions goal of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The report claims existing commitments and policies will drive US emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2025 – around two-thirds of the original Paris goal.
It also sets out 10 climate action strategies – across most major economic sectors including electricity, transportation and buildings – that, if implemented broadly, could lower emissions to 21% . Broader engagement and collaboration could bring this figure to 24%, the report suggests.
Strategies include setting and implementing more stringent renewable energy procurement policies, accelerating the phase out of super-polluting refrigerant gases, and mapping and repairing methane leaks from natural gas pipelines.
Researchers at the University of Maryland and the Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent thinktank, surveyed all 50 states, the largest 285 cities (100,000 plus population) and a cross section of businesses to map climate actions nationwide. Those committed to the Paris Agreement represent over half the US population (173 million people), over half the US economy ($11.4tn) and over 35% of nationwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Report co-author Paul Bodnar, managing director at the Rocky Mountain Institute, told The Guardian: “There have been growing coalitions in the US – cities working together, states working together, businesses working together. What’s changed in the last year and what’s new is this cross-cutting perspective. When states pass laws that help cities’ [emissions] strategies, or when states’ renewable portfolio standards are designed to help businesses – that’s really where we’re seeing really interesting, high impact results.”
The report, launched on the eve of Governor Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this week, showcases examples of states, cities and businesses pioneering climate change initiatives.
Arkansas is the only state in the south-east with energy efficiency resource standards (EERS), which require electric and natural gas utilities to propose and administer energy efficiency programs. Since 2009, strategies ranging from customer outreach to new technology have supported these programs, resulting in megawatt-hour savings enough to power 28,000 homes for a year.
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti was the driving force behind BlueLA, the city’s first all-electric car share program designed to sere low-income residents. Stations are located in LA’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods and is expected to take 1,000 vehicles off the road by 2020. BlueLA also employs community members to lead on education and outreach.
New Jersey’s largest utility, Public Service Electric & Gas used methane leak data collected by EDF and Google Street View vehicles equipped with leak detection sensors, leading to a 83% reduction in leakages.
Brown signed a bill this week pledging that the state will obtain 100% of its power from clean sources by 2045. California is the second US state to do so, following Hawaii’s pledge in 2015.
The report comes in the same week that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released proposals to ease monitoring of methane gas leaks. These would unpick the raft of rules introduced under the Obama administration in 2016 to monitor methane leaks because of their negative contribution to climate change.
Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board and vice-chair of America’s Pledge, acknowledged that the bottom up approach “has no sanctions or penalties” but that it represented “a coalition of entities that have the capacity to make a difference”.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Fauzia Aboud (middle) moved closer to home for the support of her family (Credit: David Macharia)
Cancer is the third highest cause of morbidity in Kenya.
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in the country, with women under 50 accounting for 50% of those presenting.
Of the estimated 5,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer each year, around 2,000 will die from this disease.
Many of these women are mothers or carers, employees or small business owners so the impact is felt on their families, the wider community and on Kenya’s economy.
Navigating the cancer journey
Fauzia Aboud had recently given birth to her fourth child and was breastfeeding when she noticed that something wasn’t quite right. At first the 42-year-old, who was living in Tanzania at the time, dismissed what she’d found as a cracked nipple. Nothing to worry about, her sister reassured her. But when the discomfort persisted, Fauzia’s sister knew it was time to seek advice. One doctor’s appointment led to another and finally to a specialist who recommended a scan and biopsy tests that confirmed her breast cancer.
Living away from the support network of her family in Kenya, and with three children and a young baby to care for, Fauzia admits that the diagnosis in May 2016 and subsequent mastectomy surgery was “overwhelming.” So when her doctor in Dar es Salaam recommended returning to Kenya for follow-up treatment, Fauzia knew that she needed to move home and let her family help her navigate the next stages of this confusing and difficult journey.
How would she pay for the cycles of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that she needed? Who could she turn to for support on managing the side effects? And how would she be able to make the eight hour bus trip from Mombasa to Nairobi every few weeks to receive her treatment?
Listening to Fauzia and her sisters talk about these concerns brings into sharp focus the myriad challenges that people with cancer in Kenya face every day—from recognising symptoms and getting an early diagnosis, to accessing appropriate treatment.
David Makumi, chairman of the Kenyan Network of Cancer Organisations (KENCO). (Credit: David Macharia)
David Makumi is chairman of the Kenyan Network of Cancer Organisations (KENCO), the national umbrella body for cancer support groups and patient groups. He reels off some of the many complexities along the patient journey. For instance, a woman may discover a lump but lack awareness of cancer symptoms and not feel pain so will do nothing. If she does follow up, her doctor might not suspect cancer because of a gap in professional knowledge. If referred for a biopsy, she might not have the money to pay for it because her children’s school fees are due. And, when she eventually has the biopsy, the results may get lost so she has to start the process again.
“Then, if the patient finds out it’s cancer, the feeling is that cancer equals death because they don’t have enough information,” explains Makumi. “If there’s a district or county surgeon, they may do a mastectomy. The patient is booked to go in four weeks—she has to go back home, figure out costs, break the news to the family.”
After surgery, the patient may be referred for chemo and show up for two cycles then stop because she can’t afford to continue and doesn’t know how to access funding. Makumi explains: “These are primarily social issues, not medical issues; that’s where we come in. Information is an important piece that impacts on the way patients complete their treatment.”
The escalating burden of cancer
It’s 9am on Wednesday morning and the cancer centre at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi is already crowded. There are no empty spaces on the benches outside the chemo treatment room and its rows of hoods and chairs. Women and children stand where the seats don’t exist. Some people will have traveled hundreds of kilometers for treatment but may not even get seen today.
Upstairs in the cancer clinic, lines of men and women snake along the corridors, around corners and up the staircase as patients check in for open-door appointments at the public hospital, the largest referral facility in east and central Africa.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer are a growing burden in Kenya, accounting for 31% of deaths in in 2015 and more than half of in-patient admissions.
The prevalence in Kenya of communicable diseases such as HIV, malaria and TB has led to the government channeling health spending towards these areas, with successful public health campaigns and outcomes. However NCDs have not been similarly prioritised until fairly recently, resulting in a cancer treatment and care infrastructure that struggles to meet the needs of Kenyans who develop cancer.
According to Robert Makori, assistant chief nurse at KNH’s cancer treatment center, the scenes at the hospital are the new normal. Makori sees 15 new patients a day so around 60 per week. An average 60-70 people are seen on the centre’s chemo days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) between clinic hours of 8am to 4:30pm. From Monday to Friday, around 120-130 patients come in every day for radiotherapy.
Staff and clinic hours struggle to cope with patient volume, admits Makori: “KNH is the only public hospital with both radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and many of our patients have to travel a long way for treatment,” he explains. “A person could be given an appointment but if they’re not feeling well, they can’t have their treatment and may not get seen that day.”
Plotting the road map for cancer control
To address this escalating burden, the Kenyan government last year published the 2017-2022 National Cancer Control Strategy (NCCS) which builds on the work of the government’s first cancer strategy launched in 2011. It aligns with the Kenya National Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2015-2020 and with the government’s Kenya Vision 2030 commitment to improve the quality of life of all Kenyans.
More broadly, the NCCS is a response to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target for 2030 of reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, by one third.
Designed as a road map to how Kenya addresses cancer control, the NCCS has five focus areas: prevention, early detection and screening; diagnosis, registration and surveillance; treatment, palliative care and survivorship; coordination, partnership and financing for cancer control; and monitoring, evaluation and research. The strategy recognises that public-private partnership and collaboration with the non-health sector is pivotal to this work.
Financial access to cancer treatment is one of the biggest barriers to successful outcomes. Kenya does not yet have universal health coverage (UHC) although affordable healthcare for all is one of the government’s ‘Big Four’ economic development priorities.
Most Kenyans live on just a few US dollars a day, based on figures from the government’s latest economic survey. With an estimated 75% of the population not covered by a public, private or community health insurance scheme, paying for basic healthcare is already a challenge and paying for treatment for a life-threatening disease is even more of a stretch. According to the World Bank, nearly one million Kenyans fall below the poverty line because of health care related expenditures.
The state-run National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) offers insurance to anyone over 18, with monthly payments based on income and starting from 150 KS (USD 1.50). Coverage was recently extended to provide 25,000 KS (USD 250) per patient towards cancer care.
But with treatment more likely to run into millions of Kenyan shillings and private finance interest rates of 20%-30%, many people with cancer have to rely on the Kenyan concept of ‘harambee’–community-self-help—or crowd funding to cover their costs. Alternatively, they go without treatment.
Makori at KNH comments: “Most people we see don’t have coverage so they start treatment but then 40% don’t finish because of lack of finance. It’s a challenge for our patients.”
A partnership approach to improving access
Rose Wambui was just 32 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The mother of two underwent a full mastectomy followed by eight cycles of chemo then 25 of radiotherapy. “It was quite a shock to get cancer at my age,” explains Rose, who had two children aged under eight when she was receiving her treatment.
When Rose’s oncologist suggested she pursue hormone therapy for her HER2-positive cancer, there was more worry: “It was so expensive and I knew that I couldn’t afford it.” It was then that her oncologist referred her to a special programme that KNH had set up to offer women free HER2-positive treatment. “I was overjoyed. I had to wait just one week then I started the treatment,” says Rose. “To have access to that treatment for free means a lot to us cancer patients.”
In Mombasa, Fauzia had begun her HER2-positive treatment privately but had to stop when her NHIF funding ran out. Family and friends pitched in to help her continue treatment and she even had to take out loans, but all fell short of her treatment costs. Finally, Fauzia’s sister Warda heard about the KNH programme and encouraged Fauzia to participate.
“I had been doing research and I kept thinking, ‘How can I lose my sister because of the cost of a drug?’ We thought it was the end of the road but then we heard about the programme and our imaginations started running wild,” says Warda. Through the KNH programme, Fauzia was able to complete the remainder of her treatment.
Fauzia and Rose are among the 82 women to date who have been able to participate in this programme at KNH thanks to an innovative public-private partnership formed in 2016 between Kenya’s Ministry of Health and Roche Kenya. The partnership, launched by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, is designed “to improve access to timely and precise diagnostic services and tailored cancer treatment to make cancer therapy much more effective”.
Most Kenyans live on just a few US dollars a day, and paying for treatment for a life-threatening disease is a huge stretch. Special programmes like the one from KNH offer a solution. (Credit: David Macharia)
As part of this partnership, Roche and the Kenyan government have a memorandum of understanding to jointly cover the costs of HER2-positive treatment at public institutions (designed to be a stop gap measure until further NHIF or other government funding is possible).
Andre Mendoza, country manager of Roche Kenya and East Africa says that the partners had to take a step back and develop a holistic approach to improving breast cancer treatment and care in Kenya. “Public-private partnership was part of the government of Kenya’s strategy but the infrastructure was not ready,” he says. “The puzzle in front of us was how can we solve affordability issues—and everything else—through partnership so in the end patients can have access.”
Improving treatment through early diagnosis
An estimated 80% of cancer cases in Kenya are diagnosed at late stages due to low awareness of symptoms, inadequate screening and poorly structured referral facilities.
Dr Andrew Gachii, head of laboratory medicine at KNH, says: “As institutions, we’ve been grappling with infectious diseases and now all of a sudden we have this huge cancer burden. The unfortunate thing is that many patients come in late—stage 3 or 4—so some are just coming in for palliative care.”
To help improve early diagnosis of cancer, and as part of the overall partnership programme, Roche funded the installation of an immunohistochemistry analyzer at KNH. The machine is capable of advanced testing for seven types of cancer. Roche is also funding reagents for breast cancer testing at the 2,200-person facility.
The diagnostic equipment enables KNH to test whether a patient’s tumour is hormone responsive or non hormone responsive, indicating suitability for standard of care treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer. This is standard of care testing, now available for the first time in a public facility in Kenya. It is enabling patients to have a faster and much more accurate diagnosis.
With national screening guidelines still some way off, Dr Gachii says the partnership is helping KNH to improve diagnostics by providing more precise results but without the 10,000 KS (USD 100) fee charged by private facilities offering screening. He adds the cost of testing has been reduced to around 6,000 KS (USD 60): “Before we had the machine, less than 20%—perhaps two or three out of 10 patients—could afford tests. So 80% couldn’t get proper diagnosis to continue treatment.” Building capacity for cancer treatment
The Beth Mugo Cancer Foundation (BMCF) was set up in 2016 to promote access to information, detection and treatment of breast, cervical and prostate cancer. The organisation was founded by politician Beth Mugo, who in 1997 became the first woman to be elected to the Kenyan Parliament. In 2011, Mugo was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her initial response was to keep her disease a secret because of the stigma associated with it; eventually she began to discuss her cancer openly, attracting media attention and encouraging women across Kenya to get check-ups.
As part of Roche’s commitment to improving access to healthcare in Kenya, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with the BMCF in October 2016. Aimed at supporting people with breast, cervical and prostate cancer in Kenya, the agreement involves Roche providing training for BMCF employees on the subject of cancer and helping the foundation establish international links with similar organisations.
Building healthcare professional (HCPs) capacity is another priority. Kenya has a population of 45 million people, yet it only has nine medical oncologists across its four cancer treatment facilities. Makori at KNH comments: “We still have inadequate personnel… it’s not enough to manage the entire population.”
If the right structures, equipment and doctors could be deployed to every county, we could address the [cancer care] problems squarely.
Under the partnership with the Kenyan government, Roche is funding training scholarships for five medical oncologists and six oncology nurses, almost doubling the capacity of HCPs for cancer in the country. The training also includes support for two two-week surgical preceptorship programmes in biopsy techniques. The Ministry of Health has agreed to support and retain HCPs from scholarships and expand oncology treatment by increasing number of treatment centers and units.
Dr Angela Waweru, clinical oncologist at The Nairobi Hospital. (Credit: David Macharia)
Dr Angela Waweru is a clinical oncologist at The Nairobi Hospital (TNH), a private hospital, but is also on a six-month specialist attachment at KNH’s cancer clinic. Before joining TNH, Dr Waweru was employed by the United Kingdom’s publicly-funded National Health Service. She believes there is scope for further partnership between public and private cancer care facilities in Kenya to strengthen capacity. “I think that there’s opportunity for more. We do NHIF applications for patients at KNH and we’ve been treating the brachytherapy patients because the machine at KNH is out of action. Patients are waiting months for what we could do tomorrow.
TNH houses the Cancer Treatment Center, which offers a comprehensive service from diagnosis and surgery to treatment and rehabilitation. The center’s radiation treatment unit opened in 2012 and includes radiation therapy machines and a high dose brachytherapy unit. In addition to offering pro bono support to KNH with radiation treatments, lead radiotherapist Fredrick Asige says the center also offers free chemotherapy treatment to KNH patients with leukemia on alternate Saturdays as part of the hospital’s CSR programme.
TNH has also partnered with the NGO, Partners in Health (PIH) to offer free treatment to cancer patients in Rwanda. Under the agreement made in 2016 and supported by the Rwanda High Commission in Nairobi, PIH is funding the discounted TNH treatment over two years. Around 100-150 people are expected to be received radiotherapy treatments at TNH.
According to Mendoza at Roche, this approach to strengthening infrastructure began by listening to stakeholders to identify and fully understand the access hurdles to cancer treatment. “When we first started, the patient journey to get any sort of treatment was around nine months. The patient might get to another stage of cancer over this time and it might be too late. But with all these interventions, it’s now four months and going down. It is an ecosystem approach; you have to address all of the elements, or the patient will never get to the point of treatment.”
Jackie Wambua, stakeholder relations and health policy manager, Roche Kenya. (Credit: David Macharia)
Having champions like the First Lady and Senator Beth Mugo were key to opening doors and keeping momentum going, says Jackie Wambua, stakeholder relations and health policy manager, Roche Kenya. Wambua reached out to a range of stakeholders over two and a half years from 2015 before the government agreed to partner with Roche on breast cancer treatment. From early morning meetings at the Ministry of Health to listening to patient group concerns via KENCO, she joined the dots to help make the programme a reality.
“We had committees with government, Roche and KNH on what protocols do we need, what guidelines do we follow,” she explains. “We had to look at processes that weren’t there and set up ways for the patient to navigate from casualty or from referrals outside city.”
Against a background of devolution of health services in Kenya, with counties being given a bigger responsibility in prioritising and allocating resources, Kenya’s cancer strategy provides a framework for planning and implementing cancer prevention and control interventions.
Makumi at KENCO advocates for screening to be done at county level via outreach clinics once or twice a month. Makori at KNH would like to see the government offer the private sector incentives to invest in healthcare and provide equipment so that people with cancer can have the same treatment without having to travel across the country.
Removing the stigma of cancer
Although breast cancer occurs in both men and women, more than 90% of cases present in women. Risk factors include gender (being female), family history, alcohol and tobacco use, being obese or overweight and exposure to estrogen hormones through contraceptives.
Makumi at KENCO also believes faith-based groups have a role to play as partners in spreading this message. “We looked at what worked with HIV and what changed the tide is when religious leaders got involved in talking about HIV in temples, in mosques, in churches, in the shrines, in the places of worship. When they started doing that then folks listened. So we want to craft specific cancer messages especially around prevention.”
Dr Tom Menge, chief pharmacist and deputy director, pharmaceutical services at KNH, agrees that cancer needs to be a public health priority. “Look at how the country dealt with HIV/AIDS—it was a concerted effort, declared a disaster and addressed issues of access,” he explains. “I believe that’s the direction that cancer is going.” He adds that the National Cancer Institute, currently in a formative stage, will contribute to this vision. “We worked on an amazing model for HIV; I keep wondering whether we can do same for cancer.”
Diya Melanoi Mohamed, another patient on the Roche/KNH treatment programme, wants to see more information about cancer treatment options. The 58-year-old and her husband, Farooq, had the support of their grown-up children to navigate her treatment. Farooq, who had recently retired when Diya was diagnosed with breast cancer, researched options and kept careful notes about his wife’s surgery, chemo and radiotherapy appointments.
But Diya knows not every patient will be as fortunate: “A lot needs to be done around education. Whether rural or in town, when you hear cancer, you think it’s a death sentence, it’s scary. But when you meet friends and talk freely about cancer, they’re surprised and realize you don’t have to be scared of it.”
The Kenya agreement is part of Roche’s Africa Strategy which began in 2015 and is working with local partners on a range of initiatives including strengthening healthcare systems, professional training and private health insurance with local companies. Markus Gemeund, head of Roche in sub-Saharan Africa, says the next step in Kenya is to find creative funding solutions. “The biggest challenge is funding and reimbursement. Cancer is cancer—it doesn’t wait for the economy to do well.” To this end, Roche is looking at what other creative funding mechanisms can be put in place until countries like Kenya have universal health care.
Back in Mombasa, Fauzia talks about reopening a hairdressing and beauty salon like the one she worked at before her cancer treatment. What would she wish for others who are newly diagnosed with cancer? “No-one should be afraid to reach out,” she says. “You will get help if you’re willing to look for help.”
As a schoolgirl in rural Tanzania, Memusi Saibulu was determined that becoming someone’s wife at the age of 14 would not be part of her life plan.
Growing up in the predominantly Maasai region of northern Tanzania, Memusi knew that her family would expect their daughter to follow tradition and give up her education in her early teens for married life. But the stellar student had other dreams: to continue with her schooling and eventually train to become a doctor.
Memusi, a quietly spoken teenager dressed in her school uniform of red sweater, red tie and black over-the-knee pleated skirt, says her mother had always encouraged her to study hard and do well at school. But her father, driven by cultural convention, had other plans — arranging a marriage and dowry for his daughter while she was still in primary school.
When Memusi told her favorite teacher that family expectations and prohibitive school fees meant she probably wouldn’t be continuing her education to secondary school, the instructor was concerned that such a bright student wouldn’t be given the opportunity to pursue her studies. Perhaps she could apply for a scholarship?
Then, just two days later, the man who was to be Memusi’s husband visited her family home. “The drunk son of my father’s friend,” is how she contemptuously describes the man who forced himself upon her that evening then urged her to leave her parents’ home for a life with him.
On her suitor’s next visit, Memusi felt angry and more confrontational. “You’re not going to get your crooked little legs in my bed,” she told her unwanted intended.
Memusi admits to feeling proud of herself about her defiance but also very scared: “What if he tells my father? What if he tells others in my community?” she thought to herself.
Meanwhile, thanks to the encouragement of her primary teacher, Memusi had secured a place at Orkeeswa School, a community-based secondary school in northern Tanzania that provides holistic education to high performing students whose families don’t have the financial means to pay school fees.
When Memusi received the acceptance letter for secondary school, her mother “jumped up and down” with excitement. Then Memusi took the letter to her father, which forced him to set aside the traditional path he’d envisaged for his daughter in favor of a different journey.
Memusi explained to him that marriage would be the death of her dreams. Secondary school would unlock myriad opportunities, she argued. She won her battle. Because of these strong opinions, says Memusi, she gained herself a bit of a reputation: “I am considered to be a role model for my community.”
Fewer than one per cent of girls in rural Tanzania continue their education to form five and A-levels. Memusi is currently studying physics, chemistry and biology as a form six student. She’s also served as student body vice president, a peer counselor and a leader in community service projects and extra-curriculum activities. Her dream, she says, is to become a general practice doctor who can treat people — particularly women and girls — in her community.
As Memusi shared her experience with others via The Moth storytelling project in Nairobi, Kenya, she was acutely aware of her choice to reject the role of child bride and rail against tradition. She concludes: “I don’t want to destroy culture but I want to change girls being married at a young age.”
Memusi Saibulu participated in ‘Stories of Women & Girls: The Moth in Nairobi’ in January 2018. https://www.themoth.org/
Sisters Selam (left) and Simret play cards to help pass the time while their family seeks refuge from the wildfires at a Red Cross shelter in Santa Rosa, California. Photo by Marko Kokic for The American Red Cross
Northern California’s wildfires have sparked headlines around the world for their devastating impact on popular Wine Country destinations like Napa and Sonoma. But as firefighters gradually contain the flames and evacuated residents return to their homes, the story emerging is one not just of lost lives and jobs but also of the ‘hidden’ victims: the undocumented and low-income workers so crucial to the local economy.
“One of the deadliest and costliest wildfire catastrophes in California’s history” is how the state’s insurance commissioner Dave Jones describes recent events. According to CalFire, at least 42 people have died and over 8,400 structures (homes, outbuildings and commercial properties) have been destroyed in the wildfires which began on October 8. Thousands have been displaced from homes that range from wineries and town houses to trailer parks.
CalFire has declared the Tubbs wildfire the state’s worst ever, claiming 22 lives and 5,300 structures. Four of the fires —Tubbs and Nuns in Sonoma, Atlas in Napa and Solano, and Mendocino’s Redwood Valley — now rate among the top 20 most destructive wildfires in California’s history.
The fires have dealt yet another harsh blow to Napa, which is still recovering from the magnitude 6 earthquake that hit the south of the county in 2014. The quake caused an estimated $400 million in public and private sector damages and at least $80 million in losses to the wine sector. Preliminary estimates of losses from the current wildfires exceed $1 billion, according to Jones.
What next for undocumented workers?
California’s wildfires are the latest disaster that the Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) has had to deal with this year, quickly following major hurricanes that affected eight states and two U.S. territories. Applications are now open for FEMA disaster assistance grantsto help homeowners and renters pay for temporary housing, essential home repairs and uninsured/underinsured personal property losses.
Recovering from the wildfires will be particularly hard for undocumented workers employed by the region’s vineyards, hotels, and restaurants as they are not eligible for FEMA assistance unless they have a U.S. citizen in their household (e.g. a child with a Social Security number).
Napa County is home to between 11,000 and 15,000 undocumented immigrants and an estimated 28,000 live and work in Sonoma County. Many juggle two or more jobs to make ends meet. Unlike foreign national workers on the H-2A visa program that requires employers to provide free housing and transportation for seasonal agricultural employees, these workers have no safety net.
Ana Lugo, president of Sonoma-based campaign group North Bay Organizing Project (NBOP), says undocumented fire victims are dealing with losses of property and income but fear that seeking help, for instance via the local assistance centers which act as one-stop shops for disaster support, will lead to deportation.
“It’s overwhelming: they can’t pay their rent or buy food because they haven’t worked for two weeks,” says Lugo. “They were already so vulnerable before the fires; now they don’t know where to go for help.”
UndocuFund will help with costs such as temporary housing, home repairs, and medical care. “We’re in desperate need of more funds,” Lugo said. “People are going to need much more to get back on their feet.”
Supporting low-income families
California has the nation’s highest poverty rate — around 20 percent — if factors such as cost of living are factored in. The average vineyard worker salary is $30,528 or $15 an hour. But a 2013 study by the California Budget Project suggests a two-parent family with one employed parent needs an annual income of $50,383 (equivalent to an hourly wage of $24.22) while a family with two working parents needs to earn $72,343 a year (equivalent to each parent earning an hourly wage of $17.39).
The Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB) in Santa Rosa has been distributing food to fire victims via its own drive-through facility and across 70 percent of its regular distribution sites in Sonoma County. REFB says most of those using the food bank have lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently due to the fires. Some have several evacuated families staying with them in their home. And many are low-income families who were already receiving food before the fires.
“Many people working in the service industry could have already been on the edge, receiving food at work, and now they are without jobs,” explains David Goodman, CEO at REFB.
The North Bay Fire Relief Fund, run by Redwood Credit Union, state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), and the local newspaper The Press Democrat, has raised $11.3 million from more than 17,000 donors. The fund has allocated $6 million to support families who lost their homes in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino counties
Tipping Point Community, a San Francisco based anti-poverty group, has also set up a relief fund for “low income, vulnerable communities” impacted by the crisis, including vineyard workers, immigrants, displaced young people, and students. Phase one of funding will address urgent needs; phase two will support mid- and long-term rebuilding efforts.
In California, Latinos make up 71 percent of the workforce at vineyards and more than 40 percent of the tourism and hospitality workforce. In Sonoma’s Santa Rosa, a community decimated by the fires, Latinos account for a third of the population.
Sara Velten, vice president – philanthropy at LCF, says the fund — which hopes to start distributing funds this week — will be a lifeline for low income families: “In a regular year, the winter months are hard. With the harvest season cut short, people will need help to survive,” she says.
Even before the wildfires, housing in this region was scarce and costly due to limited stock and proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Santa Rosa lost over 2,900 homes, or 5 percent of its housing stock, with middle-class neighborhoods such as Coffey Park and two mobile home parks for seniors among the worst casualties. On Craigslist, the cheapest one-bedroom apartment rents for about $1,200 per month.
Joye Storey, an emergency disaster services director with the Salvation Army, says the housing prognosis is not good for low-income families. “People who already had a small window of choices and living paycheck to paycheck will have to be relocated out of town. If they have a job in town, that means a higher price for gasoline and another layer of stress.”
NVCF president Terence Mulligan says: “More and more families are living in overcrowded housing or commuting from other counties. The worry is that housing costs are so astronomical that soon we won’t have a workforce.”
World Food Program (WFP) workers stack humanitarian aid parcels that will be distributed to South Sudanese refugees on May 20, 2017, at Al-Obeid airport in Sudan’s North Kordofan state. AFP/ASHRAF SHAZLY
WHEN AN EMPLOYEE of the United Parcel Service (UPS) saw firsthand the complexity of aid delivery during emergencies, the global distribution company launched a system to help humanitarian workers expedite supplies as well as oversee their destination.
That system was later developed to specifically help the U.N. refugee agency track aid deliveries to displaced people in countries around the globe.
Headquartered in the U.S. state of Georgia, the company also runs a “skilled volunteer” program that deploys UPS logistics experts to support ground efforts in emergency situations.
As part of our interview series with private sector leaders engaging in the refugee crisis, Refugees Deeply spoke to Joe Ruiz, director of the UPSHumanitarian Relief & Resilience Program at The UPS Foundation about the results of their work with refugees to date, and the challenges they faced along the way.
Refugees Deeply: How did the company’s work with refugees begin?
Joe Ruiz: It really started in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. One of our UPS skilled volunteers [was] deployed to Haiti [and] saw firsthand how challenging of an environment it was to distribute vital food and non-food items. There was naturally chaos and violence. Some people were afraid, and others who were aggressive got meals for their families, while others stayed out of the mix and were left out.
The UPS volunteer quickly mobilized efforts to set up a UPS tracking system called Trackpad that would allow the Salvation Army to track items distributed to ensure all the families received what they were supposed to receive – both food and non-food items.
Each family received an ID card that could be scanned each time there was a distribution of food and supplies. In order to receive food and non-food items, the moms would line up and receive the appropriate amount of supplies for their family. Word spread to the U.N. refugee agency, who reached out to The UPS Foundation to learn more about the technology.
From that camp in Haiti, we have worked with UNHCR to develop UPSRelief Link, a tracking system that has been adapted to meet the needs of UNHCR beneficiaries. The system has improved distribution efficiency and was recently tested in Greece to assist with the distribution of supplies to refugees arriving in Lesvos.
Over the past few years, UPS has become UNHCR’s Emergency Standby Partner, leveraging our global network to help deliver life-sustaining supplies to support internally displaced people and refugees across the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Our financial and in-kind commitment to the agency is annually over $1 million per year.
The scope of the aid has included a combination of donated supply-chain and logistics services, transportation, human capital expertise and financial contributions. UPS also provided an automotive fleet manager to UNHCR on loan for six months in Africa to help assess their fleet management practices and share best practices.
Refugees Deeply: What results have you seen from your refugee programs to date?
Ruiz: UPS Relief Link uses UPS’s proprietary Trackpad technology to link data on the distribution of food, blankets and other emergency goods or services to UNHCR-registered refugees – a task previously done via paper. It’s compatible with handheld barcode readers and Android tablets, and lets UNHCR view what each household received and when, helping it to keep track of supplies and refugee location. Relief Link has reduced distribution time by 50 percent and reduced the number of computers that were needed to record the distributed supplies.
Refugees Deeply: What has UPS learned about the risks and opportunities that companies are likely to face in addressing the refugee crisis?
Ruiz: What we’ve learned [from Relief Link] is that all humanitarian agencies are in need of more effective IT and track and trace technology systems. However, the operating environment where these organizations operate in the most remote corners of the world makes it challenging to develop, maintain, support, and sustain these systems.
It is always challenging to create strong, effective public-private partnerships. Yet that’s exactly what’s needed in order to scale to the level of support that is needed, given the size of the refugee crisis at any given time.
Refugees Deeply: How are you measuring the success of the company’s refugee programs?
Ruiz: By nature of being [UNHCR’s] emergency standby partner, we are constantly focused on meeting the emergency needs of our U.N. and agency customers. Our efforts are measured on whether we can deliver when and where they need their supplies – food and non-food items. We provide the appropriate mode of transportation, ground, ocean and air as needed, leveraging our global UPS network and customs brokerage skills.
A woman searches the Airbnb website in Madrid on November 24, 2016. AFP/JAVIER SORIANO
The day after President Donald Trump’s executive order in January suspending refugee resettlement and barring travel to the U.S. from seven countries, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told employees in an email that the company would provide free housing to refugees and anyone affected by the travel ban.
While the ban has since been revised and is now mired in legal challenges, the San Francisco-based home-sharing website has announced a goal to provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need, including refugees, disaster survivors and relief workers.
Airbnb’s work with refugees grew out of the Disaster Response Program launched in 2013 after New Yorkers used the platform to offer shelter to people displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Under the program, hosts offer free temporary accommodation for displaced people and Airbnb waives all booking fees. The company also donates travel credits to allow relief workers to book accommodation with Airbnb hosts.
As part of our interview series with private sector leaders engaging in the refugee crisis, Refugees Deeply spoke to Kellie Bentz, head of Global Disaster Response & Relief at Airbnb, about the company’s work with refugees to date.
Refugees Deeply: How did Airbnb’s work with refugees begin?
Kellie Bentz: In partnership with the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, we hosted a discussion in the summer of 2015 with about 20 to 30 companies, which was the beginning of our deeper dialogue with the U.N. and the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) about the global refugee crisis.
By September 2015, our community was consistently indicating that they wanted to take action on the crisis emerging in Europe. Then, in October 2015, we started working extensively with UNHCR, International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps to provide housing credits to their relief workers on the front lines.
Our commitment to doing more and learning from our work with these terrific organizations led to our more recent commitment to house 100,000 displaced people and relief workers within the next five years.
Refugees Deeply: How did you decide what would be the most useful and efficient role for Airbnb to play?
Bentz: Our approach was developed to address both the global crisis and specific local challenges in places like Europe and the Middle East. We believe that our global community and our platform are a powerful combination to help raise awareness, raise much-needed financial resources and provide both online and offline solutions to specific obstacles faced by refugees and their families. UNHCR, Mercy Corps and the IRC continue to be our key nongovernmental partners in this important work. Their counsel and input have guided our work at every step of the way.
Refugees Deeply: What results have you seen from the company’s refugee programs to date, and what are your goals for the next year?
Bentz: We have provided over 3,000 nights of free housing to relief workers working in refugee camps in Kos, Lesvos, Ionniana, Athens, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We matched up to $1 million in contributions [in 2016] from our community to UNHCR to support their work with refugees.
During the 2016 holiday season, over 350 Airbnb hosts [in the U.S.] and resettled refugee families shared holiday meals to find common ground and to learn more about one another. Over the course of 2017, we will be expanding this initiative to Canada and Europe, enabling our community to offer warm meals and create new bonds with future citizens.
We supported a two-day hackathon to develop prototypes for open-source educational solutions for refugees. We also provided accommodation for the team of relief workers who helped produce After Spring, a documentary that tells the story of two Syrian families at the Zaatari refugee camp, and the aid workers fighting to keep the camp running.
Refugees Deeply: What have you learned about the risks and opportunities that companies are likely to face in addressing the refugee crisis?
Bentz: Belonging is core to our mission and we believe that everyone can be a part of the solution. This includes the private sector and government entities coming together to identify where we can all contribute and collaborate to create empathy driven impact.
Airbnb was one of the initial partners to sign on with the Tent Partnership at Davos in January 2016. We believe it is important to encourage as many private sector entities as possible to contribute to a part of the global refugee crisis solution in their own unique way. The partnership is a convener of both private sector and nonprofit partners in this space.
Refugees Deeply: How are you measuring the success of the company’s refugee programs?
Bentz: We have a goal to provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need. To help meet this goal, Airbnb will contribute $4 million over the course of four years to the IRC to support the most critical needs of displaced populations globally. We will measure our progress against this goal.
Iraqi refugee Mustafa Altaie,23, writes an application on a library computer in Heilbronn, Germany. Marijan Murat/dpa
The refugee crisis in Europe has repeatedly highlighted the urgent need for communication technology for people on the move, from mapping their journeys to accessing services at their destinations.
Since leaders at the global I.T. and networking group Cisco saw the humanitarian situation on European borders escalating in 2015, they have tried to deploy the company’s products and people to improve connectivity for refugees in a scalable and sustainable way.
Working with nonprofit partners, the multinational company set up Wi-Fi hotspots in refugee camps across Greece, Slovenia and Serbia, and helped to develop first response centers in Germany that offer a real-time translation service. They have also deployed cloud security software to protect refugees from cyberthreats.
As part of our interview series with private sector leaders engaging in the refugee crisis, Refugees Deeply spoke to Erin Connor, Cisco’s portfolio manager for critical human needs, about the organization’s response to refugees’ needs.
Refugees Deeply: Could you describe a moment when you became convinced that the company had a role to play in addressing the refugee crisis?
Erin Connor: Cisco typically responds to natural disasters only, but the refugee situation became a humanitarian crisis of such proportions that, in October 2015, we chose to make an exception to our policy.
We started by expanding the scope of our annual hunger relief drive to include organizations responding to the refugee crisis, based on employee interest. We added over 40 NGOs to the campaign, and Cisco Foundation matched employee contributions dollar for dollar.
We subsequently awarded cash grants to nonprofit partners NetHope and Mercy Corps, and provided networking and communications equipment to the German Red Cross. In addition to these donations, Cisco took an active role in our area of expertise. We sent equipment and employees to Greece and Slovenia (and provided remote technical support and equipment for Serbia), to set up Wi-Fi hotspots at refugee camps in partnership with NetHope.
Refugees Deeply: How did you decide what would be the most useful and efficient role for the company to play?
Connor: We chose to pursue a multi-pronged approach to our response, leveraging our core competencies – our people, products, expertise and financial resources – to respond to the refugee crisis.
We have done this in a number of ways: by encouraging and matching the generosity of our employees to provide critical financial support to responding organizations; by awarding cash grants to strategic nonprofit partners to provide internet-based information and coordination services to refugees and NGOs on the ground, and by donating Cisco equipment to establish Wi-Fi hotspots and connectivity to refugees on the move and in camps. We have also provided time, expertise, and in-kind technical support through our Tactical Operations, Disaster Response Team volunteers and Central European team.
Refugees Deeply: What results have you seen from the company’s refugee programs to date, and what are your goals for the next year?
Connor: Cisco’s Tactical Operations (TacOps) engineers and Disaster Response Team volunteers have carried out 10 two-week deployments in partnership with the NGO NetHope to install Meraki-based Wi-Fi networks across Greece, Slovenia and Serbia.
A total of 75 sites (64 are currently active, as some have been decommissioned due to the moving population) have provided connectivity to over 600,000 unique user devices since November 2015. Using our cloud security software, we block an average of 2,000 cyberthreats per day.
Cisco also funded the prototype of the first two Refugee First Response Centers (RFRCs), which was a concept developed by the Cisco team in Hamburg and a range of ecosystem partners. The RFRC units are shipping containers transformed into doctors’ offices, equipped with Cisco technology that enables access to the internet and real-time translation for refugees.
The early units caught the attention of a local private donor, who funded the production of 10 additional units that have been produced and deployed to Red Cross camps throughout Hamburg, providing over 18,000 medical video-supported consultations to date. Two of the 10 units replaced the original RFRCs, and have been shipped to Lebanon and Greece for replication.
In terms of what’s next, we’ve committed equipment and employees’ expertise to support deployments with NetHope this next quarter to set up connectivity in an additional 12 sites.
Through our Networking Academy, we’ve committed to training 35,000 refugees in Germany over the next three years (15,000 by the end of this year). We’ve also just provided funding to Mercy Corps to support the expansion of Refugee Information Hub, a platform jointly developed with the International Rescue Committee, into seven new countries in 2017. The RFRC team (led by Cisco partner MLOVE) is also hoping to produce and deploy an additional 100 units.
Lastly, we’re planning to commission a third-party evaluation to look into the specific impacts of connectivity on refugee populations.
Refugees Deeply: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far in your work with refugees? What have you learned about the risks and opportunities that companies are likely to face in addressing the refugee crisis?
Connor: I think we’ve seen firsthand just how critical connectivity is for refugees. It’s a way for them to connect with loved ones, access critical information and even begin the asylum-seeking process in a new country. “Is there Wi-Fi?” is one of the first questions refugees ask when arriving in a new place.
As cyberthreats are becoming more advanced and prevalent, and data privacy and protection is vital for the refugee population, the importance of building cybersecurity protections into the network architecture cannot be understated.
As it is apparent that refugees may be in these camps for an extended period of time, the issue of education is becoming more urgent. Having connectivity opens up opportunities for online training and remote education that could benefit children as well as adults seeking to gain job skills.
With every deployment we are learning lessons and developing best practices to improve function and efficiency. For example, we now have solution “kits” that can be built ahead of time in a controlled environment, and easily and quickly installed upon arrival at a camp.
Field deployments also give us a lot of insight into how our products function under real-world and often extreme conditions, which we then feed back to our product teams who can develop enhancements and new features. Our TacOps team also quickly learned that the internet lines in a camp need to be clearly labeled – no one wants to be that person who cuts off connectivity for an entire camp.
Refugees Deeply: How are you measuring the success of the company’s refugee programs?
Connor: We provide in-kind support, technical expertise and equipment through our TacOps team, cash grants to nonprofit partners and I.T.training through our Networking Academy, so we evaluate success differently across these three categories.
In establishing Wi-Fi, we look at the number of refugees connected to the internet, and the number of cyberthreats blocked through our networks. It’s important to us that they not only benefit from connectivity, but that they are also protected from any outside threats to their identity or safety.
Through our Networking Academy, we are tracking the number of refugees in Germany that take and complete our I.T. training courses.
Through our cash grants, we base our success on the ability of our nonprofit partners to meet the performance metrics they set. For example, we have just provided funding to help expand Refugee.Info. Some success metrics for this project include number of users, countries and user ratings to understand refugees’ satisfaction with the platform and content provided, which will inform future product development or service improvements.