Puerto Rico: A Month After Maria
Narrow, muddied roads, exacerbated by preexisting power and water issues, are making distribution of aid in Puerto Rico an enormous challenge. Over 80% of the island is still in the dark; roughly 3 million currently are without power and about a million are without running water. According to CNN reporter John D. Sutter: “Much of the island feels as if it were hit by a storm yesterday, not one month ago”.
As stated by the The World Health Organization, each person requires at least 2.5 liters of potable drinking water per day, with a recommended daily allotment of up to 15 liters for activities such as cooking and hygiene. basic cooking and hygiene. Yet, according to Justo Hernandez, FEMA's deputy federal coordinating office, Puerto Rico has only been provided with 23.6 million liters of bottled and bulk water since the storm hit on September 20. This includes water that has been delivered to hospitals and dialysis centers.
The amount of water that the U.S. has distributed does not even make up for 10% of the population’s drinking needs. As a result, t is no surprise that many Puerto Ricans have turned to desperate measures. In Dorado, near the capital of San Juan, residents have been going to federally marked, contaminated wells. One resident remarked: "If I don't drink water, I'm going to die. So I might as well drink this water."
John Mutter, a professor at Columbia University and an expert in international disaster relief, responded to the current relief efforts with disappointment: "I thought we'd learned our lesson after Katrina where the response was awful, both carelessly slow and incompetent.” He continued by saying, "In Puerto Rico, it doesn't look like we've learned anything at all— or we just don't care."
In the next few days, The US Senate is expected to vote on an aid package that would include $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico in their recovery.
With three overlapping hurricanes, and limited resources for aid, there has been a great deal of controversy regarding the seemingly unequal treatment each area has received. FEMA released a statement, pronouncing that each situation calls for separate responses. However, when comparing the issue of power restoration after Maria and Irma, the timeliness and extent of the response demonstrate glaring inconsistencies.
A final complication to this situation involves Puerto Rico’s status as a territory. While its inhabitants are considered to be citizens of the United States, they “can't cast ballots in presidential general elections, and the island's one representative in Congress can't vote, either”.
Their lack of electoral power is not merely an inconvenience but , in effect, it also prolongs their current state of ruination. During a press conference, a reporter asked President Trump if the aid process would be smoother if Puerto Rico was a state rather than a territory. Avoiding the subject, he responded: “You’ll get me into trouble with that question”.
Even a month after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico remains in post-apocalyptic conditions. Yet their preexisting debt to the mainland has constantly come up when discussing their needs for further aid. Perhaps this is not merely an issue of Puerto Rico being "an island sitting in the middle of an ocean ... a very big ocean” ,but rather, an issue of the United States government failing to treat Puerto Ricans like equal, American citizens.