No one expects the damage to destroy a home, a livelihood and a planned future. Unpredictable yet not surprising, Typhoon Haiyan submerged and ravaged the southeast lands of the Philippines. It’s irrelevant whether the economy employs 32% of the population in agriculture or its main export is manufacturing. When homes, factories, and infrastructure lay demolished, the only concerns consist of the basics: food, water, shelter. International organizations like Oxfam braced for the impending doom. Unfortunately, current legislation restricts the origin of food for food aid to the U.S., which must then be transported via train, then ship. A bitter ode to years past, current food aid reform slows the ability to send fresh, local food to survivors of a disaster that left a slew of unknowns in its aftermath. When is food getting to people stripped of their livelihood?
An Oxfam-supported Change.org petition requests Congress to apply an exemption for food aid to the Philippines. When Dr. Juanita Salvador-Burris started this petition, she became a face to connect humanitarian aid and legislation. “I am not a reluctant voice,” she stated in a recent phone interview. She is new to the social media and change.org petitions, however she was impressed with the enthusiasm and surprised by the number of people who signed the petition. In fact, her fellow Alumni of University of Chicago began to email her, including a demographer working in Thailand and an anthropologist at Harvard University. The emails began to pour in, “Carlos has signed your petition,” and even more emails filled with personal thanks and appreciation for representing an important change in an unstable time for tens of thousands in recovery. .
Regional Advocacy Lead for Oxfam America, Adam Olson, accompanied Juanita to briefly meet with Senator Durbin on November 23rd. With the power of 4,000 signatures in hand, they presented to Senator and staff. Within a moment of interaction, saying Oxfam, and discussing the purpose of the signatures, Senator Durbin and his staff responded positively. From previous lobby visits in 2013, Durbin and his staff have always supported food aid reform. Base support by Senator Durbin, greatly needed, requires continued support by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Aid reform becomes a dire issue for all members of Congress when disaster strikes leaving areas in absolute need of food, water, shelter, and medical care. The exemption of current laws would serve the Philippines greatly since one of the worst recorded typhoons in history. As the nature of disaster changes, literally, we must logically improve standards and regulations, to save lives.
Surpassing 40,000 signatures, the reach of the petition continues to grow more than ten times the amount delivered to Senator Durbin. The comments section, flooding with empathy and stances of logical solutions greatly reflects the need for common sense reform. Everyone, in Chicagoland and internationally, understand the need for this exception and for general reform. Maya Roberts of Chicago writes, “Re-write these laws so that they're up to date with the new technologies and advances we have as a global community and not only one centered on American inputs. The people of the Philippines and all other future natural disaster survivors need help as soon as possible - HELP THEM!” And George Hamilton-Brown of Fremont, California writes, “Just made aware of such unreasonable regulatory red tape, this must be corrected or exemptions declared in circumstances such as this.” Our frustration is felt by thousands and reflects the need of thousands abroad, who we may never see or meet. We don’t need to know the individual names and lifestyles of the people effected. All we need to know is that they are people, people in need, people we can help immediately.
Legislation is just that, articles written to keep regulations and government going. But there are times when legislation needs to meet the demands of a changing situation. This exemption is the first step to better regulation and more importantly, saving lives.
Please sign and pass on this petition.
Special Thank you to Juanita Salvador-Burris for her interview!