The State of Puerto Rico

The people of Puerto Rico have just undergone 2 hurricanes, Irma, Maria, not seen in intensity since 1932. 

The people of Puerto Rico are still, 95% without power. 

The people of Puerto Rico, it bears repeating, are American citizens.

While so much of the Caribbean is suffering from the massive devastation from multiple hurricanes, Puerto Rico deserves special attention from us today as we look at the failures to stage effective disaster preparation and response. 

The World Bank has periodically studied disaster response and effective emergency management and made numerous policy recommendations, especially for "disaster-prone areas." With climate making is mark on all areas, is easy to see the definition of "disaster-prone" becoming much broader. If you are a aficionado like me, you will want to read this evaluation brief by the World Bank on "Natural Disaster Response." 

Common themes of good planning include: strong institutions, community participation and planning, and focus on the different types of plans from different types of disasters.

Many of us watched, helplessly, while Puerto Rico was drowning, while their timely aid faltered, while shipping containers of goods piled up, unable to be distributed. They are our people and this failure to mobilize an external effort would not be tolerated in any other state. The good news is, the help has been pouring in and progress is being made. But the human costs have been almost incomprehensible: 

Death toll easily in the hundreds, as hospitals are only just starting to receive generator power and morgues are full in many places.

"In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico,” the New York Times reports. That amounts to a $780 million loss. The island imports 85 percent of its food, but the destruction of its agricultural sector is likely to increase prices and exacerbate the scary prospect of continued food shortages on the island."

55% of the Island is still without fresh water access.

"AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk consultancy, estimates the storm caused $40 billion to $85 billion in insurance claims throughout the Caribbean, with 85 percent of those losses in Puerto Rico."

It is easy to be paralyzed in the face of this much loss and devastation, But the people of Puerto Rico, our Puerto Rico, are resilient and committed to rebuilding. We can help them with our donations (check out this for many ways to give), but we can also help by taking seriously the recommendations of disaster experts so we are prepared for the coming climate-changed future. 

Lastly, we can do everything in our power to slow climate change and the risks it increases for vulnerable communities:

"Risk reduction should have a central role in any disaster-prone country’s overall sustainable development strategy and should therefore form an integral part of donors’ programs and country strategies."

-World Bank Brief on Natural Disaster Response

Shannon Anderson