November 7, 2012
In 2006 the United Nations adopted guidelines on human rights and humanitarian disasters. The document focuses on the ways in which intergovernmental organizations and civil society respond to crises from a human rights-based approach. However, the role of government is not addressed.
Hurricane Sandy severely impacted areas in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and the northeastern coast of the United States. Government agencies, humanitarian aid organizations, and independent local groups have all had a significant role in the immediate response to the disaster. Those responding to natural disasters fulfill basic needs such as providing food, water and sanitation, shelter, and health services. During the recovery period from a disaster, governments have an obligation to uphold human rights and have a vital role in fulfilling economic and social rights of affected peoples.
Dare I ask what we can expect next? In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S., numerous survivors of Katrina were displaced. There was little oversight and attention paid to international human rights norms by the U.S. government and standards were ignored in the long-term recovery. Using the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the U.S. Human Rights Network mounted a national campaign to address this gap and hold the U.S. accountable.
In the wake of Sandy, and based on the experiences of similar natural disasters, the U.S. government and those recently elected must ensure that it does not repeat the mistakes of the past. This disaster has the ability to push many more families and individuals deeper into poverty, thus the long-term recovery requires governments to adhere to human rights principles. The economic crisis coupled with millions of people living in poverty, racial injustices, and the realities of climate change expose the deep and systemic inequalities within our society. A human rights-based approached recovery would address these issues and ensure that people’s economic and social rights are realized.
by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University