UMCOR Board Approves $1.4 Million for U.S. Recovery


Hundreds of homes in Oklahoma still need to be mucked out after flooding. Photo: Richard Norman
Hundreds of homes in Oklahoma still need to be mucked out after flooding. Photo: Richard Norman.


Grants will assist communities in Oklahoma, Texas, and Maryland, whose recovery is far from over

By Linda Unger, senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries

October 5, 2015—The board of directors of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) approved $1.4 million to assist communities in Oklahoma, Texas, and Maryland whose moments in the headlines because of disaster have long faded, but whose recovery is far from over.

“Sometimes it’s the invisible disasters that really require the greatest funding,” said Greg Forrester, head of UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response. “They come into the news and go out of the news quickly. But for the families affected, the impact lasts a lot longer than the news cycle.”

Families in Oklahoma and Texas are still feeling the impact of tornadoes, torrential rain, straight-line winds, and massive flooding that tore across both states last spring. Rain fell steadily for weeks, causing rivers to overflow their banks and flood the homes of thousands, notably those who could least afford it.

Across Texas, more than 40,000 households applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance. The Texas Annual Conference disaster response team has identified 300 households with unmet needs within its geographical area, which includes Houston.

In Oklahoma, 66 of 77 counties were impacted, and nearly 11,000 households registered with FEMA. The flooding came just as the Oklahoma Annual Conference disaster response team was concluding its long-term recovery work in Moore, which had been leveled by tornadoes in 2013.

“The tornadoes in Moore attracted a lot of funding because the damage was so visible,” Forrester said. “That’s more difficult with flooding because the damage it causes is less visible. The water comes up, does its worst, and then goes away. A lot of the destruction is inside the home; you don’t see it from the street.”

Forrester said UMCOR grants will support the efforts of the Oklahoma and Texas conferences in their long-term recovery efforts, including case management, construction management, and volunteer management.

Reducing future disaster risk

 Crisfield, Maryland was one of the towns hardest hit by Super Storm Sandy in 2012. “Sandy put four and a half feet of water on Main Street, and affected almost every single resident,” Forrester said—all 2,600 of them.

Nearly three years later, reconstruction and repair are finished, thanks to a collaborative and ecumenical effort. But early on, while assessing damages, the disaster response team found numerous homes that had been in decline long before Sandy; unless they were repaired, they would not withstand another hurricane, even a much smaller one.

“We still had Sandy funds, so we were able to make a grant to the Peninsula-Delaware Conference to work on this mitigation project,” Forrester said. It will take about three years to complete.

Financially excluded in Haiti

UMCOR directors also approved a grant in the amount of $1.5 million to UMCOR partner FINCA, to assist the vulnerable people in Haiti to acquire microloans and financial literacy.

Only 22 percent of the adult population in Haiti have access to the financial systems that could provide them with the capital to start or sustain a small business—one of the lowest rates of financial inclusion in the Americas. Women and those who live outside of major city centers are among the most excluded.

The UMCOR grant will support FINCA Haiti with capital for its Village Banking system, which will provide small loans to groups of borrowers. With the loans and training in financial literacy, villagers, especially women, will be empowered to build small businesses and improve their standard of living.