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Oxfam Blasts US Response For Puerto Rico

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The international nonprofit Oxfam has blasted the Trump administration's response to the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and has pledged to commit its own resources to help residents in the U.S. territory. Oxfam is a global organization that provides humanitarian aid to developing countries.

On Oct. 2, Oxfam America President Abby Maxman released a statement criticizing the pace of the Trump administration's relief efforts for Puerto Rico.

"Oxfam has monitored the response in Puerto Rico closely, and we are outraged at the slow and inadequate response the U.S. Government has mounted," Maxman said on the organization's official website.

It is unusual for Oxfam to criticize a U.S. government's disaster response. Maxman added that the global organization had sent to a team to Puerto Rico to help provide resources, give technical support and work with Puerto Rican leaders to lobby for more relief from Congress.

"Oxfam rarely responds to humanitarian emergencies in the U.S. and other wealthy countries, but as the situation in Puerto Rico worsens and the federal government's response continues to falter, we have to step in ... The US has more than enough resources to mobilize an emergency response but has failed to do so in a swift and robust manner," Maxman concluded.

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Scott Paul, humanitarian policy lead for Oxfam America, explained that the organization was willing to place pressure on the U.S. government if it believed that not enough was being done for Puerto Rico.

"Oxfam has a long history of holding government, including in the US, accountable to protect the most vulnerable in times of crisis," Paul told CNN. "Sometimes, that means helping them hold the government accountable, and in Puerto Rico, accountability is sorely needed."

On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The Category 5 storm took out the U.S. territory's electrical grid and devastated the majority of its infrastructure.

"Everything collapsed simultaneously," Puerto Rican Director of Safety and Public Protection Hector Pesquera told The Washington Post.

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While President Donald Trump has repeatedly asserted on social media that the U.S. government response to the disaster has been excellent, local officials on the ground say that relief has been inadequate.

"The federal response has been a disaster," Puerto Rican lawmaker Jose Enrique Melendez told The Associated Press. "It's been really slow."

John Rabin, acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, explained that the logistics of providing aid to the island territory had hindered progress.

"Every day we get more and more situational awareness," Rabin said to The Washington Post. "As soon as we recognized there was a need for more resources and more capability, we ordered up that proverbial bigger boat ... It's not that it was 'slow,' it's 'complex,' is the way I would describe it."

On Oct. 3, Trump visited Puerto Rico to meet with Gov. Ricardo Rossello and other officials. During a press conference, the president noted that hurricane relief for the U.S. territory was expensive.

"I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack because we spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that's fine," the president said, according to The Hill. "We saved a lot of lives."

Trump also directly compared the death toll from Maria to the death toll of 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

"If you looked -- every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overbearing ... 16 versus literally thousands of people," Trump said. "You can be very proud."

The official fatality count in Puerto Rico has not been updated since Sept. 27, meaning that the number of casualties in the storm could be much higher.

"Everything in the government has collapsed," San Juan-based reporter Omaya Sosa Pascual of the Center for Investigative Journalism told Vox.

"Some of the people who work in the government lost their homes themselves and aren’t at work," Pascual added. "So they can’t do death certificates. The dead can’t be documented because of all the logistics and legal aspects of declaring someone dead."

Sources: The Associated Press via TimeCNN, The HillOxfam America, VoxThe Washington Post / Featured Image: U.S. Department of Defense/Flickr / Embedded Images: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr, New York National Guard/Flickr

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