In mid-September, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, causing insurmountable damage to the island. Infrastructure was destroyed, power went out, and buildings were demolished. Seven weeks since the disaster, there are still many humanitarian and economic problems that need to be addressed. Simply put, there is not enough aid going into repairing the US territory.
One of the major problems surrounding the destruction is the issue of public health. After the hurricane hit, the power went out and is still mostly out. Earlier this week, on November 9th, there was an attempt to repair a major power line, which would have brought up the percentage of citizens with power from roughly 20% to 45%. However, this attempt failed, leaving many people still in the dark. Without electricity, food cannot be preserved and hospitals can barely function. The absence of power has also impacted cell phone service, leaving many without means of communication.
On top of the electrical problem, there is no longer clean water to drink. People are resorting to drinking water contaminated with chemicals or human waste. This unsafe drinking water leads to disease, such as leptospirosis. It is reported that 55 people are confirmed dead from the non-potable water, but many more may have also died. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is involved in making the water safe to drink again by conducting samples of water and managing wastewater facilities.
Right now, there are various organizations providing some aid to Puerto Rico. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working to help repair the country, starting with the power lines. A month and a half after the storm, cell phone coverage has gone up, though still not at 100% restoration. There are more hospitals with power and transportation, such as roads and airports, are being reopened. FEMA has also been working with the EPA to remove debris and is providing continual support in the cleanup process. FEMA has 125 million dollars of individual relief aid in their budget, but many do not know how to apply for the aid. For those who do receive aid, the process of actually getting the money is slow and cumbersome. Though progress has been made, FEMA still faces the issue of a lack of sufficient funding to fully repair from the environmental disaster.
Before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the country did not have the strongest economy. Puerto Rico was involved in a high amount of borrowing that left the country in tremendous debt, to the point that it neared bankruptcy. Currently, the debt is at 70 billion dollars. There was also a decline in population as residents left the country in search of better jobs. The Great Recession left the country in a job crisis that it never quite recovered from. The Puerto Rican government has not been the best at solving these problems either. The inefficient bureaucracy has made it difficult for the government to do much about these economic problems, so progress had been slow. Then the hurricane made everything worse. The country does not have the funds to pay off its debt and repair its infrastructure at the same time. Citizens are still going to leave the country because there is even less for them after the storm. Without significant change, the situation is going to further deteriorate as time goes on.
There is clearly a need for federal aid to solve the problems Hurricane Maria created for the people of Puerto Rico. However the current levels of federal assistance are minimal. The people living on the island are citizens of the United States and pay taxes, yet they are not receiving the adequate funds to get back on their feet after such a destructive storm. The reason is mainly political. Some Americans believe that money should be invested into the United States first before providing foreign aid to outside countries. Despite the status of Puerto Rico being a US territory, some Americans still see Puerto Ricans as outsiders, therefore, they are less willing for the US to provide aid. US citizens deserve the same emergency response as other US citizens, but at the moment, the Puerto Ricans are not getting that treatment.
The problems faced by Puerto Rico fall into two categories: short and long term problems. Short term problems include the restoration of power and rebuilding of infrastructure, just to name a few. The long term problems mostly include the economic issues of the debt. In order to resolve these issues, Puerto Rico needs assistance. One of the most promising solutions to the debt crisis is to default on its debt. Without the burden of debt, the country would have more of an opportunity to face the short term problems imposed by the hurricane.