Living Conditions in the Virgin Islands The U.S. Virgin Islands are a tourism hotspot in the Caribbean comprised of four major islands: St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island. Many people retire on the islands to enjoy the white sandy beaches and blue coastal waters. However, this list of top 10 facts about living conditions in the Virgin Islands goes beyond the images of tropical paradise to get a closer look at life on the islands.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Virgin Islands

  1. The average household income in the U.S. Virgin Islands is $37,254 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is 75 percent of the mainland’s average income. Its economy relies heavily on tourism which makes up more than half of the islands’ GDP. More than 2 million tourists come to the Virgin Islands every year. However, when hurricanes damage the islands, they hurt the economy as well.
  2. The territory is $2 billion in debt due to hurricane damage, the collapse of sugar production and the closure of factories. In 2012, the Hovensa refinery closed down, leaving the islands without its largest employer.
  3. Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged up to 90 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authorities’ (VIWAPA) transmission and distribution lines. The U.S. provided $1.9 billion for recovery to the islands. The Virgin Islands have since regained its water and power, but many top hotels and resorts will still be closed until late 2019.
  4. The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands is a nonprofit organization that supports aid to the islands and works with the government to provide essential resources. In addition, All Hands and Hearts and Repair the World are two groups which provide relief to the islands following the aftermath of hurricanes.
  5. The U.S. Virgin Islands have three main sectors of employment: mining, logging and construction; accommodation and food and leisure and hospitality. Because of hurricanes, as the tourism sector declines, the construction and rebuilding sector is experiencing growth. Following the 2017 hurricanes, employment declined by 7.8 percent.
  6. The cost of living in the U.S. Virgin Islands is higher than on the U.S. mainland. On average, apartments cost $2,000 per month. A two-bedroom house costs at least $285,000.
  7. Not everyone can afford health care on the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are high levels of HIV on the islands with 31.4 people out of 100,000 diagnosed with HIV. In the continental U.S., only 12.5 people out of 100,000 people have HIV. In addition, doctors who come from the U.S. mainland often have issues communicating with locals.
  8. Water conservation is important on the islands because it only rains an average of 38 inches per year. Many residents rely on cisterns to store water instead of using the main water supply. This can cause problems with the water not being safe to drink. To combat this issue, the U.S. Virgin Islands have constructed new, efficient desalination plants.
  9. The middle and lower class is largely made up of Black Americans. Hurricane seasons push many people in this demographic deeper into debt when they have to reconstruct or rebuild. It is estimated that over 480 people are homeless in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  10. The U.S. Virgin Islands provide private and public schooling to kids K-12. The University of the Virgin Islands offers 43 degree-options. It has campuses on both St. Thomas and St. Croix and there are 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students who attend the university. Though many schools were destroyed during the hurricanes in 2017, many have been rebuilt.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are more than just a tropical paradise with luxury homes. There are differences between the locals and those who move there from the mainland. Hurricanes wreak havoc on the small island territories every hurricane season, causing the islands to struggle economically and physically. This list of top 10 facts about living conditions in the Virgin Islands is not exhaustive, but it paints a clearer picture that the island territory is not solely about palm trees and sea breeze.

Jodie Filenius

Photo: Flickr

Puerto Rico
On September 20, 2017, tragedy struck the island territory of Puerto Rico with the landfall of Hurricane Maria. The people living there were faced with many consequences from the category 4 storm, including the temporary closure of schools and a cost of damage reaching $94 billion.

In the midst of an economic recession, this disaster left many poverty-stricken families without the means to survive. As the storm passes its one-year anniversary, Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico are still in full force, and progress is being made each day.

The Initial Response

With sustained winds at 155 miles per hour along with catastrophic flooding, several trees, cell towers and homes were uprooted during the hurricane, causing a loss of electricity and lack of clean water or food. The initial response by The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was criticized. They faced a particularly difficult set of problems with hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as wildfires in California. The organizational fatigue resulted in specific flaws in the preparation for hurricane season in Puerto Rico and the failure of having adequate supplies in the area.

FEMA emptied 80 percent of its Puerto Rico-based Caribbean Distribution Center in response to Hurricane Irma, landing just weeks before Maria. However, despite the lack of resources available, FEMA, along with local first responders, the government of Puerto Rico, The Department of Defense, The U.S. Coast Guard and many others began recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, providing food, water, first aid and other life-saving supplies. Furthermore, FEMA activated its “surge capacity force” with more than 640 federal employees temporarily leaving their jobs to support the efforts.

Recovery Through the Months

A month after Hurricane Maria hit, 80 percent of the island was without power and 30 percent was without drinking water. However, FEMA’s response efforts continued, becoming the largest and longest commodity delivery mission in the agency’s history. The agency provided 17 million gallons of potable water and 72 million liters of bottled water the months following.

More than 60 nongovernmental organizations and government partners were on the ground assisting less than a month after the tragedy. The Red Cross developed a recovery plan to assist with the most urgent requests, focusing on four key aspects- access to power, access to clean water, livelihood restoration and community health. With many families losing their homes and livelihoods because of income-generating crops being destroyed by the storm, The Red Cross aimed to help citizens restore their jobs and become more self-sufficient through microgrants to small businesses and training in agriculture and home reconstruction.

Hurricane Maria Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico Today

On August 28, 2018, the catastrophic death toll was 2,975. This count makes Hurricane Maria one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history and increases the pain each citizen continues to feel as a result. Though the community endures the heartbreak of Hurricane Maria every day, the progress since the tragedy has shown tremendous hope.

The island’s power authority says more than 95 percent of the population has restored electricity. All 68 hospitals are open, and efforts are being made to provide temporary facilities for the remaining damaged health clinics. More than 1,843 generators have been installed, and about 4,200 power line workers are working to repair transmission and distribution lines for the areas that have had an inconsistent power supply.

As the territory recuperates and works towards attracting tourism again, the citizens have expressed much resilience and hope. Though this may sound like a tragedy come and gone, the Hurricane Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico will reflect through each citizen every day.

– Beth Dowdy

Photo: Flickr

international hurricane reliefHurricane season: a three-month span between the months of June and November when people from Panama to Maine brace for destructive and often deadly wind and rain. These large storms, often the size of small countries, can bring winds from 74 mph at their weakest to well over 100 mph at their strongest, dumping large quantities of rain as they move across land and sea. The warm waters of the mid-Atlantic and Caribbean help feed these spinning storms, which can lumber along at 30 to 70 mph. Due to their immense size, the amount of precipitation often causes flooding in areas along a hurricane’s path. Combine this with high winds, and areas often hit by powerful hurricanes regularly need international hurricane relief.

Hurricanes begin their life in the mid-Atlantic, either off the coast of Western Africa or over the middle of the ocean. From there they move in swinging arcs and paths that are difficult to predict for the coast of Central America, the Caribbean islands, the Southern United States and the Eastern Seaboard. Since these storms hit so many countries and often leave devastation in their wake, state-sponsored organizations, NGOs and privately-funded charities offer international hurricane relief. Many of these charities also operate in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Following are examples of organizations that provide international hurricane relief.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development is the main arm of the United States effort to aid its neighbors and other nations around the world. USAID provides both long-term aid programs and disaster relief programs, and International Hurricane aid provided by USAID reflects this. Programs already operating in nations in the hurricane danger zone are provided with funding and technical assistance to help people when disaster strikes. Being prepared beforehand can help to save many lives. USAID also utilizes their Disaster Assistance Response Teams, or DART’s. During the 2017 hurricane season, DART teams provided aid and organization to 11 locations in six different countries. Through USAID, the United States provided nearly $23 million in aid. Everything from chainsaws to desalination units was flown in on 55 air missions which delivered 155 metric tons of supplies. Approximately 83,000 people were helped by this DART mission.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent

While many hurricanes strike impoverished or underprepared countries, they also strike the United States. When they hit the United States, the large storms do not discriminate. Wealthy and poorer areas alike are usually struck, and it is only after the hurricane that money matters. This was evidenced during Hurricane Katrina. 

The American Red Cross society not only prepares and responds to the worst in the United States; they also provide international hurricane relief to other countries hit by the severe storms. The American Red Cross emphasizes preparedness. A main focus of the organization is to pre-position supplies so they can be easily accessed during and after a storm.

On the American Red Cross’ website, useful advice for preparing for a natural disaster such as a hurricane can be found. This simple advice includes making sure that you have a store of freshwater, learning your evacuation routes if evacuation is an option and keeping an emergency kit stocked. Advice on what a person or a family should do before, during and after a hurricane can also be found.

Habitat For Humanity

Habitat for Humanity works in the United States and around the world, focusing on three main activities: neighborhood revitalization, homebuilding and disaster relief. International hurricane relief is part of their expansive disaster relief program. One division of this program is called Habitat Hammers, which works to rebuild houses after natural disasters. Habitat Hammers missions were launched from Texas to Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane season. Over the next five years, Habitat for Humanity will help families affected by the hurricanes which hit Puerto Rico in 2017. According to the government, more than 780,000 houses were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by the hurricanes. Habitat Hammers will work to build and rebuild houses with families in Puerto Rico.

How You Can Help

Records indicate that hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are becoming stronger and more frequent as ocean temperatures rise. Devastating storms year after year will increase, and agencies and charities around the world will need help. This can be provided through donations to organizations like the American Red Cross, or by traveling to disaster areas as a volunteer or aid worker. It is a large planet, but in the end, we are all neighbors.

– Nicholas Anthony DeMarco
Photo: Flickr

How Credit Access in Dominica Ensures GrowthIt is particularly important for people to have credit access in Dominica. Borrowed money is a main reason why Dominica has been able to rebound following Hurricane Maria individually and on a national level.

Two Category 5 hurricanes devastated Dominica in September and October of last year and caused heavy damage to the country’s infrastructure and the livelihoods of its citizens. Half a year later, the situation in Dominica has improved. A majority of water systems have been repaired, most schools have reopened and diverse foodstuffs have reappeared on market shelves.

There is still a need for reconstruction. Forty-four percent of the buildings on the island were destroyed, and another 55.5 percent had some degree of roof damage. As of early February, electricity was unavailable in 80 percent of Dominica. Credit access in Dominica functions as an important crutch to help people rebound during this time of reconstruction. A large portion of the population had their livelihoods threatened, especially those in agriculture and tourism.

Dominica’s national bank requires that individuals be employed for a continuous one-year period with their current employer in order to qualify for a personal loan. For people who depended on tourism and agriculture to survive, meeting this requirement is a high bar. The hurricane ripped plant life out of the ground, damaging crops. The tourism industry experienced hard times as well, with all tourism halted for months.

Corporations have recognized the high level of need for credit access in Dominica and have done their part to allow borrowed goods and services. Flow, a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless Communications, began operations to restore mobile services to Dominica in good faith, even extending free credit to help mobile customers communicate with friends and family.

Ensuring credit access in Dominica is beneficial to the companies that provide it. Dominica’s economy as a whole was on the rise in early 2017, with a decrease in government debt and an increase in tourism. Negative growth in Dominica was estimated at 6.4 percent due to Maria, but the island’s economy is expected to rebound, with an estimated 6.9 percent growth in 2018 as it rebuilds.

Credit access in Dominica comes in the form of both individual and national need. Over 400 higher-ups from governments, civil society organizations and the private sector mobilized to support reconstruction efforts following Maria. Support for Dominica totaled over $1.3 billion in pledges and over $1 billion in loans and debt relief.

Despite the setback from the hurricanes, Dominica’s economy is still expected to trend upward, which bodes well for those supplying lines of credit. The Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) is one such company supplying financial aid to the people of Dominica.

The ECCU recorded slow growth in the country’s economy, and Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit noted that the potential capital of banks in the ECCU has improved since non-performing loans are trending upward as a consequence of recent hurricanes.

Dominica has a long history of bouncing back from natural disasters. Credit access in Dominica ensures that the nation becomes stronger and more resilient, as well as offering an immense opportunity for those providing capital.

– Sam Bramlett

Photo: Flickr

Hurricane relief in Puerto RicoAfter weathering Hurricane Irma (the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic) and Hurricane Maria (the fifth largest hurricane ever to hit the U.S.), Puerto Rico is in desperate need of hurricane relief. The island still lacks power, as the storm knocked out 80 percent of the island’s power transmission lines, and the only electricity is coming from generators. Fuel, food and water shortages are creating a massive humanitarian crisis and are driving the urgent need for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.

The storms affected an already economically crippled Puerto Rico, which is under a regime of debt-driven austerity measures. In May, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy, and it has since been trying to restructure more than $70 billion in debt. An already stagnating economy will struggle even more under the financial burden of reconstruction after the hurricane.

The call for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico has already been answered, although much more support is needed. Some 5,000 active-duty troops and National Guardsmen members have been deployed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has 600 people on the ground coordinating relief efforts. FEMA reports that “more than 4.4 million meals, 6.5 million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits to support 3,000 infants for a full week, 70,000 tarps, and 15,000 rolls of roof sheeting [have been sent] to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria’s landfall.”

In addition, the current administration granted a 10-day waiver from the Jones Act, a maritime regulation that requires all shipping from one U.S. port to another be carried on American-made and American-operated shipping vessels. This regulation itself is economically draining for Puerto Rico as it drastically increases the price of shipping. A 2010 study by the University of Puerto Rico found that the Jones Act cost the island $537 million per year.

Luckily, the waiver will allow goods to enter Puerto Rico more efficiently; however, the long-term effects of the raised prices in the U.S. territory will still be felt if the Act stays in place. It is unlikely that the Jones Act will be repealed without broad support because President Trump has stated, “We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Hurricane relief in Puerto Rico must be a priority for the U.S. going forward, but it must also be coupled with a renewed sensitivity to the ever-present economic struggles that the small island faces. Puerto Rico is a territory created in the legacy of U.S. colonialism and their short and long-term suffering must be treated with urgency. Hopefully, in the wake of this disaster, the U.S. government will continue to work with Puerto Rico beyond the immediate recovery efforts and towards alleviating the poverty and austerity created by the debt crisis.

Jeffery Harrell

Photo: Google