Mental Health in Puerto Rico
Mental health is at the forefront with many other illnesses and disabilities. It can in many ways be just as dangerous if not more dangerous than physical disabilities or illnesses if it does not receive treatment. Mental health issues do not only affect the individual suffering from the illness but also the family and loved ones around. Many countries experience high levels of mental illness in all of its extremities. Mental health in Puerto Rico has become a serious conversation among the island’s people.

Mental Health in Puerto Rico

A study published in April 2019, determined the ongoing mental health impact that Hurricane Maria had on the island’s children. Much of the talk about mental health on the island is closely related to the storm. Researchers from the Puerto Rico Department of Education and the Medical University of South Carolina collaborated to study and examine the storm’s effects on the people’s well-being. A significant amount of public school students ranging from third grade to twelfth grade and lived through the storm participated in the study. About 7.2 percent of them showed clinical symptoms of PTSD.

Many regard the mental state of a country’s youth as crucial. For this reason, a group of volunteers from Fundacion Pro Ayuda de Puerto Rico or the Puerto Rico Help Foundation allied with Departamento de la Familia (Family Department) and started a project in 1997. The project’s name was Hogar Santa Maria de Los Angeles or Santa Maria de Los Angeles House.

Fundacion Santa Maria de Los Angeles (FSMA)

The Foundation’s original purpose was to give housing to young pregnant girls who lacked family support and socioeconomic resources. The name of the organization later changed to Fundacion Santa Maria de Los Angeles (FSMA). It reflects that the organization intends to provide help and care as a nonprofit organization and not just by providing housing.

FSMA benefits from donations that private organizations and the government of Puerto Rico make. It also receives individual or personal donations. Throughout the years, FSMA has adjusted to the times and necessities of youth. It offers new services to new communities with at-risk kids. It is one of the most trusted centers with the most complete help, prevention, training and therapy programs on the island.

FSMA’s Success

One of the greatest achievements that the Foundation has had is the decrease of teenage pregnancies at three schools in San Juan. Executive Director, Jose A Benitez-Gorbea states that “these three schools had an average of six pregnancies per year.” The organization made a module for every school semester centered on safe sex.

FSMA taught about protection, the risks and consequences of actions. The three schools began to have positive results and attained the goal of complete eradication of teenage pregnancies. The seminars also encouraged pregnant adolescents and motivated many away from depression. Today, none of the schools that participated in the Foundation’s program have a single occurrence of teenage pregnancy.

In the year 2018, FSMA helped 9,800 people that hurricanes Irma and Maria affected. It also provided aid to 500 people a month through its seminars. Its goal is to create a better standard of life for all and awareness of mental health throughout Puerto Rico.

FSMA’s Services

There is a necessity to create awareness regarding mental health in Puerto Rico. Some communities are vulnerable to mental illnesses because they do not have the resources to pay for medical services and psychological therapy. FSMA’s mission is to help and offer a safe place with room and board. It provides “food, objects of primary necessity, medical and psychological assistance and love,” said Jose A Benitez Gorbea.

Schools, public housing and other communities hold seminars on prevention and education on subjects that affect today’s youth. The subject matters that the seminars cover include bullying, suicide, depression, anxiety, self-esteem, self-care, responsible sex, management of emotions and how to maintain a healthy social life among others.

FSMA’s Team

The team includes a group of professionals dedicated to mental health. Two psychologists are responsible for clinical supervision and the coordination of the other positions. There is also one social worker in charge of the records who also helps with crisis intervention. FSMA collaborates with the Universidades Interamericana and Carlos Albizu of San Juan. There is a training clinic center where 15 students from these universities do their clinical practice to obtain their doctorates. Theses students offer seminars and work every day with patients in therapy.

In the administrative sector, there is an executive director, an assistant administrator and a service helper. “There is also a huge help which also comes from fifteen volunteers. Eleven belong to the union of directors and four are individual volunteers. These volunteers are in charge of making fundraising activities possible,” said Jose A Benitez-Gorbea.

The Future

FSMA is one of many organizations that is aware of the importance of mental health in Puerto Rico. It began assisting the physical, emotional and psychological needs of pregnant adolescents over 20 years ago. Today, it continues to provide support and care. FSMA eradicates teenage pregnancies in lower-income public schools in San Juan. It also facilitates the improvement of the emotional and psychological conditions of many kids. FSMA puts a stop to suicide, mutilation and risky behavior. The Foundation supports encourages and influences the island’s youth. FSMA believes that the youth of the country relies on the future.

Francisco Benitez
Photo: Flickr

IsraAID Responds to Global Crises
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, the nonprofit organization IsraAID responds to global crises, such as natural disasters and poverty, and sends teams of volunteers to help those in need. After its founding in 2001, IsraAID responded to crises in over 50 different countries. Its expertise in crisis relief includes emergency aid distributions, pinpoint trauma support and prevention training for local government and non-government professionals. These are some of the global crises IsraAID has responded to:

Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines

IsraAID sent its first mission to the Philippines after Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. Working in collaboration with local partner Operation Blessing International, IsraAID dispatched a team of nurses and doctors to assist in the emergency medical operations. In 2013, another typhoon devastated the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people, injuring more than 28,000 and affecting over 16 million people overall. IsraAID responded within 48 hours with its medical team on the ground less than four days after the event. It spent the first three days of its efforts assisting the local health workers in one of the many hospitals the typhoon had destroyed. After that, IsraAID spent the next two years operating with the local government, instigating programs in medical support, psychotherapy and the rebuilding of the fallen cities.

Earthquake in Nepal

After a major earthquake left Nepal in ruins back in 2015, IsraAID sent a team to help the local police force locate survivors and provide emergency medical treatment. This was a relief to the local authorities and medical personnel outnumbered by the number of injuries and the chaos that ensued. Working alongside the authorities and an emergency response from the Israeli Defense Forces, IsraAID volunteers risked their lives to save and treat the survivors who the rubble had trapped. IsraAID not only provided the immediate essentials of food, water, shelter and medical aid to the Nepalese but also focused its efforts on long-term recovery via farming, fishing and a new supply of clean water. It also provided psychosocial services to the victims, helping them cope with and build resilience in the wake of the tragedy.

The Dadaab Refugee Camp and Famine in Kenya

Since 2007, IsraAID has been sending emergency relief teams to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya—the largest refugee camp in the world—to aid the victims running from violence and famine. Later in 2011, when a drought caused one of the worst famines to ever strike the Horn of Africa, IsraAID returned to Kenya with a distribution of food and relief items for the refugees and locals still suffering from hunger and chaos. It also offered that same assistance to the people of Turkana, Kenya’s poorest county. IsraAID has maintained a steady presence in Kenya since 2013, helping those in poverty and the refugee camp with medical treatment, water management and psychosocial support.

Refugee Crisis in Greece

During the refugee crisis in 2015, IsraAID responded by sending a team of volunteers to Greece. Special mobile units provided immediate medical and psychosocial aid, distributed supplies and identified particularly vulnerable groups, such as children. IsraAID volunteers also rescued refugees whose boats had capsized and provided sleeping bags to anyone who had to sleep on the ground. Throughout the crisis, the volunteers provided food, clothing, medicine and hygiene kits to the refugees, as well as psychotherapy training to the local government and non-government professionals so that it could better care for the traumatized population.

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria devastated the Puerto Rican population in 2017, IsraAID responded with a Spanish-fluent team of psychosocial and medical support, as well as experts in water and sanitation. At the time, the country’s poverty rate was 43.5 percent and the unemployment rate at 10.3 percent, on top of 95 percent of the populace losing electricity as a result of the storm. IsraAID provided emergency relief programs in the distribution of food, water and basic supplies, medical treatment and mental support. The team then shifted focus to long-term recovery and implemented a system to provide water and sanitation to the people of Puerto Rico.

The aforementioned countries and many others have benefitted greatly from IsraAID’s support, and IsraAID responds to global crises to this day. The organization has even established ongoing training programs for water management, psychosocial services and other relief efforts in the countries listed above, as well as in Japan, South Korea, Haiti, Jordan and South Sudan. As IsraAID responds to global crises, those in need have a chance to lead better lives.

– Yael Litenatsky
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in the Puerto Rican Government
On July 10, 2019, Puerto Ricans had proof that their government was as corrupt as they suspected. The Center of Investigative Journalism leaked a chat from the Telegram app between the governor, Ricardo Rossello, and some of his past and current members of staff. With hundreds of pages as evidence, the people of Puerto Rico found the group making vulgar, racist and homophobic comments towards several people. Although some say the corruption has been years in the making, it was the leaked 889 pages of content that took down the Rossello administration. Most of all, the corruption scheme that led to millions of dollars of the public’s funds going to the administration’s personal bank accounts became known, showing the corruption in the Puerto Rican government.

The Situation

The conversations between Elias Sanchez, Edwin Miranda and Carlos Bermudez in the chat reveal that a multimillionaire network of corruption had taken place. On paper, they operated as private citizens and contractors, but in reality, they hold more power than any of the secretaries in the constitutional government, according to the Center of Investigative Journalism.

Along with different companies and institutions, they managed to keep the country in poverty. One example is Unidos Por Puerto Rico, an organization that Rossello’s administration created. It seeks to find hurricane relief aid after the past natural disasters. The organization obtained $14 million in aid but no one really knows how the organization spent that money. Whenever someone made a donation, they would get a receipt from a company that Edwin Miranda, one of the men behind the corruption, owns.

After two hurricanes, there was a recession economically. A lot of companies, local businesses and schools closed down due to lack of funds and supplies. Puerto Ricans had to turn their attention to their own survival. Despite the people’s endurance, several compartments full of supplies sat untouched and covered in rat excrement, according to Radio Isla. Among the reported expired supplies were water, medicines, baby food and others. Although Rossello’s administration did not confirm it, locals believe that La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, held compartments for themselves. One of the main causes for the sudden death toll was because of the lack of supplies and aid the people of Puerto Rico received.

The Aftermath of Hurricane Maria

In early December 2017, a few months after Hurricane Maria, the government’s official death count was 64 people. The chat leak revealed that they were manipulating the media with a very low death count, another fact that shows the corruption in the Puerto Rican government. However, eventually, independent researchers started to question the official death count. The New England Journal of Medicine estimated 4,645 excess deaths following the natural disaster, but it could not confirm this because of the lack of forensic scientists. To this day, there are cadavers still in forensics because the government has not been able to get the resources to properly examine them.

The Puerto Rican Protests

Through the reveal of all the injustice, the people of Puerto Rico have protested, and after almost four weeks, their efforts produced results. On August 2, 2019, Ricardo Rossello resigned his post as governor and the other members of the chat have either resigned their post in government or taken some time off. The Secretary of Justice, Wanda Vazquez, has since become the governor. The people of Puerto Rico cheered to their victory with a new hope of ending the corruption in the Puerto Rican government and to reduce the poverty.

– Andrea Viera
Photo: Flickr

Life expectancy in Puerto Rico
The island of Puerto Rico is a country located in the Caribbean Islands. After the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico and various organizations are making efforts to ensure life expectancy for those victimized. Below are 10 facts about life expectancy in Puerto Rico and how people are seeking to improve it despite obstacles.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Puerto Rico

  1. The World Bank Group documents the statistics for life expectancy in Puerto Rico as approximately 79.974 years as of 2017. This is in contrast to 68.72 years in 1960.
  2. The World Bank determines the population of Puerto Rico to be approximately 3.2 million people as of 2018. WorldBank.org also documents the population of Puerto Rico as declining since its peak in the years 2000-2006 with a population in the 3.8 million range. Pew Research indicates that Puerto Rico’s current decline in population is due to the effects of Hurricanes Maria and Irma which led to the significant loss of 123,000 citizens leaving the country between 2017 and 2018.
  3. Statistics show that women are more likely to live longer than men in Puerto Rico. According to the CIA World Factbook, men generally live 78 years in Puerto Rico and women live about 85 years.
  4. The median age of Puerto Rico has increased over the past decade. The World Bank indicates that the median age for males is approximately 40 and for females 44, making it about 42 years averaged together. Pew Research also documents that 81 percent of the population is over 18. This indicates that living past childhood in Puerto Rico can increase one’s life expectancy when a person is in a more independent stage of life.
  5. The Puerto Rican Integrity in Medicare Act, H.R. 6809 (PRIMA) highlights the country’s desire for proper Medicaid coverage. This act of reform emerged in October 2018 with the intentions of helping stabilize medicare coverage for those in Puerto Rico, a needed reform because Medicaid spending for the island is just 26 percent of the mainland average. The effects of Hurricane Maria has also made the need for affordable Medicare coverage dire. The PRIMA Act would require Medicare Advantage plans to spend at least 50 percent of funds on provider payments, giving an incentive for physicians to work on the island. The PRIMA Act would overall benefit Puerto Rico’s Medicare Advantage plan and increase life expectancy for the country’s most vulnerable citizens. Puerto Rican Representative Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon also sponsors this act.
  6. Infant mortality rates have gone down in Puerto Rico according to Index Mundi and the CIA World Factbook. In the year 2000, there were approximately 10 deaths for every 1,000 live births, whereas, in 2017, the number of approximated infant deaths was lowered to six per 1,000 by 2018. This could be due to the number of births decreased from 24,000 births in 2018 to 46,000 births in 2008. As the population has been decreasing, the chances for infant mortality rates have as well.
  7. Life expectancy for senior citizens in Puerto Rico has risen, as those 65 and older make up 21 percent of the population in 2018 versus 14 percent in 2018. This could be indicative of older citizens staying in the country as younger people are moving away due to the significant migration loss in Puerto Rico from 2017 to 2018. The Puerto Rican AARP system has also seen an increase in senior citizens in the country becoming valuable consumers as they become a more significant part of the population.
  8. The Taller Salud Incorporation is an organization particularly interested in helping the female population in the Puerto Rican town of Lozia, a municipality with a fatality rate of 43 women in 2017. Through its self-advocacy programs, Taller Salud is an advocate for peace and equality for both sexes. The organization’s anti-violence campaigns have resulted in a 90 percent decrease in violence in Lozia in 2018. Life expectancy for these women also increased as Taller Salud uses its funds to provide them with initial medical screenings, along with STI screenings and workshops on reproductive health.
  9. To combat natural disasters, the Puerto Rico Rises Corporation seeks to increase the chances of protecting Puerto Rican citizens in the future by producing and distributing Solar Shelter Kits (SSKs). These kits include water filtration structures and a solar generator in cases of power outages. The SSK’s overall goal is to provide relief for Puerto Ricans during storms while also using a low carbon footprint.
  10. As a highlight of general improvement in Puerto Rico, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has done much. Beginning in December 2018, the organization made recovery projects to benefit Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. These improvements include an advanced warning system, enhanced emergency planning, new water testing facilities, stable power grids and rebuilt schools.

This varied information about the lives of Puerto Rican citizens indicates that life expectancy in Puerto Rico is fairly average. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Puerto Rico also indicate that despite the country’s recent hardships, its people are vigilant.

– Natalie Casaburi
Photo: Pixabay

Agroecology
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, the agricultural sector of Puerto Rico suffered one of the most devastating losses in its history. The island lost about 80 percent of its entire crop value in the initial aftermath alone; according to the Puerto Rican Department of Agriculture, the damage amounted to approximately $780 million in lost agricultural yields. The organization, Boricua, however, promotes agroecology in the hopes of limiting agricultural damage in the face of future disasters.

The Impact and Aftermath of Hurricane Maria

For weeks after Maria, felled trees in the hundreds of thousands dominated the landscape of rural Puerto Rico, stripped of their leaves and bark. The storm also flattened fields of crops or simply blew them away. To make matters worse, the hurricane also killed thousands of livestock and decimated the infrastructure of the area.

For the few farmers who were still able to produce anything, the loss of infrastructure and supply chains rendered it virtually impossible to transport food from farms to cities or towns. Not long after the catastrophe ended, one dairy farmer reported that he had thrown out about 4,000 liters of milk a day for almost a week, since there was no way to transport or sell milk and nowhere to store it safely.

These losses occurred at the worst possible time; according to Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the island of Puerto Rico had “only enough food for about a week.” Before the hurricane, Puerto Rico was importing roughly 80 percent of its food, a large percentage of which came from other islands in the Caribbean, including St. Martin and the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico became vulnerable to starvation between the destruction of homes, roads and vehicles, as well as the hurricane’s damage on nearby islands that exported food to them.

Food Vulnerability and Efforts to Rebuild

Many Puerto Ricans described the aftermath of Maria as a revelation, exposing the vulnerability of an island dependent on external sources for all of its food. For Puerto Rico to avoid this vulnerability in the face of future disasters, it needed to be able to rely on its own agricultural sector – the same agricultural sector that Hurricane Maria had recently ripped to shreds.

Despite the destruction, some Puerto Ricans saw this as an opportunity to begin rebuilding. After the end of the catastrophe, the Organization Boricua de Agricultura Eco-Organica (often known simply as Boricua, a local word for a native Puerto Rican), along with various other local organizations, such as the Resiliency Fund, mobilized to clear roads and provide assistance and food to rural communities affected by the hurricane. This help came mainly in the form of solidarity brigades, which were groups of local volunteers who had banded together to help their neighbors survive and rebuild after Maria.

Organization Boricua

For the Organization Boricua, these relief brigades came in moving camps which would spend three or four days in each farm they visited. During this time, volunteers would help rebuild farm structures and repair damage to farmers’ houses, along with helping farmers replant crops that had been ruined or blown away.

These relief camps represented a long tradition for Boricua. The organization, which emerged in 1989, promotes agroecology and solidarity among rural communities in Puerto Rico. For Boricua, the use of volunteer brigades was not a new development in response to the hurricane, but an old tactic being put to use in rural Puerto Rico’s time of need. Farmers affiliated with the Organization Boricua frequently form brigades to help their neighbors in times of need. Needy farmers may invite volunteers from neighboring farms to come over with food or spare tools or simply to help with harvests, plantings or repairs.

Agroecology

However, the organization’s work goes beyond promoting solidarity and mutual aid. Boricua is a proponent of agroecology – an ecological approach to agriculture which promotes biodiversity, sustainability and the use of native vegetation in farming. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Boricua relief brigades did more than simply help bereaved farmers keep their heads above water – the organization, along with many others, began preparing rural Puerto Rico for a more sustainable way of life.

Boricua promotes a holistic approach to farming, in which farms contribute to and rely on the natural biodiversity of their surroundings. In addition, agroecology allows farmers to stop being dependent on the use of commercial seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. By cutting free from commercial farming supplies, agroecology both fosters independence in small farms and denies the use of common agricultural practices that damage the environment.

Also, farmers in Puerto Rico have good reason to reject commercial agricultural practices. Research shows that one-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from agricultural production around the globe. Because of this, unsafe and unsustainable farming practices can come back to bite farmers; as the world’s climate grows warmer and more erratic, storms and droughts are growing more and more frequent. Hurricane Maria itself is a perfect example of this as the hurricane was one of the worst storms on record ever to hit Puerto Rico. Experts are worried that storms of Maria’s size and destructiveness may become the new norm if the pattern of global warming does not change. So, by turning Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector away from commercial practices, Boricua may be contributing a small part to the aversion of future storms like Maria.

In addition, there is a reason to believe that a more sustainable, more biodiverse method of farming would be less vulnerable in the face of another disaster like Maria. Research shows that smaller, diversified farms, on average, suffer less damage than larger farms that use monoculture.

Thanks to the efforts of the Organization Boricua and other local environmental organizations, Puerto Rican farmers have begun the slow climb out of the wreckage of Hurricane Maria and toward a greener, more sustainable future. Hopefully, if this trend continues, agriculture on the island will not only be able to heal from the hurricane’s damage but also better prepare itself for the next storm to come along.

– Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr

puerto rico
One year ago this September, Hurricane Maria made landfall on the small Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. The Category 4 hurricane left destruction and turmoil in its wake, causing as much as $94 billion in damage to the island and approximately 2,975 fatalities according to the most recent estimates. Since then, there has been an exodus from Puerto Rico to The U.S. mainland of people seeking to escape the economic depression which plagues the island.

The Economic Crisis Leading to an Exodus from Puerto Rico

The damage caused by the Hurricane compounded an already desperate situation for Puerto Rico, which at the time of the storm faced $71 billion in debts and $49 billion in pension liabilities. The financial crisis in Puerto Rico had been in the making since the 1990’s when the island’s government began to borrow billions of dollars in order to pay its bills. The government borrowed from investors and U.S. banks through the sale of bonds until they racked up an enormous debt, which in 2015 surpassed the island’s GDP. The situation went further south in 2013 when bond prices fell and hundreds of millions of dollars in Puerto Rican capital was wiped out.

The faltering economy in Puerto Rico during the early 2000’s incited an early exodus from Puerto Rico by a certain demographic. “Between 2006 and 2013, there was what you could call a brain drain of the island,” explains Jennifer Hinojosa, Data Center Coordinator at the Hunter College Center for Puerto Rican Studies. “Young professionals chose to leave the island in search of education and employment elsewhere. A huge reason for this out-migration was that there were no jobs.”

Hurricane Maria’s Aftermath

When Hurricane Maria came pummeling down upon the island in September of 2017, 44.3 percent of the island’s population was already living in poverty and the unemployment rate was at 10.1 percent. 155 mph winds tore through the island, floodwater more than 30 inches deep ran through neighborhoods, for a long period of time, 100 percent of the island’s population lost electricity and access to food and water was limited for most.

The situation looks dire for many Puerto Ricans who are now trying to rebuild their lives and cope with the severe infrastructural damage caused by the storm. For example, after the storm, some towns had to deal with 80 to 90 percent of their structures destroyed. With long-term damage making recovery efforts slow and difficult, more and more Puerto Ricans are faced with the tough decision of leaving their island to find opportunity elsewhere.

Hinojosa weighed in on this situation explaining that “when Maria hit, everyone was leaving, regardless of socioeconomic status. It was more of a free fall, we’re talking about professionals and low-skilled workers alike. The impact of this was that you had people who couldn’t find jobs in Puerto Rico during the economic crisis period and then you add on top of this another tragedy like Hurricane Maria, the result was that the number of those leaving the island significantly increased and the probability of those who left returning to Puerto Rico became pretty unlikely.” Hinojosa and the Director for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, Edwin Melendez further elaborated on the post-Maria exodus in their report, “Estimates of Post-Hurricane Maria Exodus from Puerto Rico”.

The government of Puerto Rico estimates that by the end of 2018, 200,000 residents will have left the territory for good. In addition, according to Hinojosa’s and Melendez’s predictions, 114,000 to 213,000 Puerto Rican residents will continue to leave the island each year in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. These numbers are disheartening to those who hope to see the economic situation improve in the country.

The primary reason given in the Centro’s report to explain the exodus from Puerto Rico is that there are not enough jobs to found on the island. The Hurricane dealt a heavy blow to infrastructure in key areas like the country’s electrical system, transportation system and communications network, all of which directly impact the commerce and service sector.

What’s Next for Puerto Rico?

Aside from the immediate destruction and crisis brought about by the Hurricane, the impact of the storm is predicted to influence the island’s economic future for years to come. Some reports suggest that the damage done by Maria could lower Puerto Rican incomes by 21 percent over the next 15 years totaling $180 billion in lost economic output.

Looking towards what’s to come in the future, Hinojosa expressed that, “it’s all dependent on what happens in Puerto Rico. If young people are able to find jobs in The U.S. they will pick up and leave. If the government wants to keep their labor force intact they will have to think about creative ways to better the economy. For many Puerto Ricans, if they find a job in the U.S., and achieve some level of stability, they are going to stay in the U.S.”

The future for the tragedy-stricken Puerto Rican people is uncertain, but what is evident is that at the start of hurricane season this June, thousands of people remained without permanent homes, electricity or employment. In order for people to stay on the island and prevent a continuing exodus from Puerto Rico, major reconstruction efforts must be undertaken so that the country has the opportunity and resources to thrive.

Clarke Hallum

Photo: Flickr

earthquake
On September 28, 2018, the poverty-riddled country of Indonesia experienced a deadly natural disaster. A 7.5 earthquake followed by a tsunami that produced waves of up to 6 meters tall hit the city of Palu killing hundreds. As search efforts to find survivors continued, many news outlets have called into question the effectiveness of Indonesia’s early disaster warning system.

The Tsunami in Indonesia

BBC News reported that a system of 21 buoys used to trigger the warning system based off of the data that they receive was inactive during the time of the tsunami. Gifted to Indonesia by a few generous countries after the last natural disaster, the buoys had either been vandalized or stolen. With a strict budget in place, Indonesia hasn’t been able to afford the cost of replacing the buoys or maintaining the remaining system they currently have in place. As a result of the unreliable warnings in regards to the size of the waves, many have perished.

When a natural disaster hits a country that already has problems with its infrastructure due to poverty, like Indonesia, it often causes far more deaths and inflicts a lot more damage. BBC News compared similar natural disasters in three countries and found that impoverished areas are more susceptible to the effects of natural disasters.

The Hurricanes in Puerto Rico

In 2017 Puerto Rico suffered back to back hurricanes that left the country with even fewer resources than it had before. With 40 percent of its population living below the poverty line, the ailing country was already crippled by debt, experiencing a lack of electricity and facing school shutdowns. Given the state of Puerto Rico’s poverty crisis prior to the disaster, the country was ill-prepared for the effect the hurricane would have on its crumbling infrastructure.

Puerto Rico’s disaster relief efforts have been both challenging and expensive given its previous state of affairs. The U.S. has offered $2 billion to fix Puerto Rico’s electric grid, but in order to fix the damage done before and after the hurricane, it would take $17 billion. Further financial resources would have to be given to restore Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and help it to withstand natural disaster threats in the future.

The Earthquake in Haiti

Before the 7.0 magnitude earthquake disrupted Haiti back in 2010, 72.1 percent of the Haitian population was living on $2 a day in cities with poorly constructed cramped housing. Dwindling funds in Haiti were met with cost-cutting measures that led to faulty building codes. The soil-based land on which Port au Prince was built was at the epicenter of the earthquake, which also contributed to the city’s imminent collapse. With a stronger magnitude earthquake than Haiti, China lost 87.5 thousand people while Haiti lost 230 thousand citizens.

The earthquake in Haiti made quick work of the poverty-stricken area of Port au Prince. Haiti received $13.5 billion in aid relief after the earthquake, but with the money, came the unforeseen side effect of disease. After stationing soldiers on the ground to provide relief after the earthquake, toxic waste was spilled into a Haitian river causing a severe outbreak of Cholera which has killed an additional 9,000 people over the last four years. Additional relief funds will need to be provided to treat the epidemic.

When natural disasters strike areas that have been weakened by poverty, it leads to more damage, more lives lost and far more money needed to fix the situation. In many of these instances, measures could have been taken to prevent mass casualties, especially in areas where natural disasters pose a significant threat. Investing in long-term infrastructure solutions and natural disaster prevention instead of just throwing funds at a problem for an immediate fix in poverty prone areas will save more lives.

Catherine Wilson
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

hunger in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, exacerbating the hardships already faced by the people of the island. According to the 2016 U.S. Census, of the island’s 3.4 million people, 44 percent live in poverty. Due to the combination of these circumstances, hunger in Puerto Rico has increased.

However, much attention has been brought to the difficulties on the island resulting from the hurricane, leading to widespread relief efforts from individual volunteers and nonprofit organizations. Together, these groups are working to help Puerto Ricans.

Puerto Rico is a United States territory, yet, as recently as September 2017, only 54 percent of Americans knew that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens as well. This complicates the aid and relief efforts from the U.S. government that Puerto Rico is eligible to receive, making volunteer efforts to alleviate hunger in Puerto Rico even more important.

10 Facts About Hunger in Puerto Rico

  1. Before the 2017 hurricanes, Puerto Ricans were four times more likely to be food insecure than the U.S. average. The Nutrition Assistance Program in Puerto Rico is the island’s main anti-hunger program and helps feed low-income residents.
  2. After Hurricane Maria, 85 percent of Puerto Ricans were food insecure. This means that the vast majority of the island’s population did not have a reliable means to access nutritious meals. This percentage continues to drop as essential utilities, such as electricity, are restored on the island.
  3. The availability of food in supermarkets was limited after the hurricane, and the food that was available saw high price surges. To combat this, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, asked the Department of Justice to investigate and sued the supermarket chains that increased their prices.
  4. One mayor estimated that 5,000 residents faced starvation. The government did not allocate adequate food resources for each person, preventing them from accessing the appropriate quantities of food. Federal aid, farming and volunteer food efforts worked to combat this problem and bring food to the island.
  5. Hurricane Maria destroyed about a quarter of Puerto Rico’s farmland, making it difficult to grow crops long-term. The U.S. Department of Agriculture worked to assess the damage and make sure people received food.
  6. Eighty percent of the current crops were destroyed by Hurricane Maria, which equals $780 million lost. Crops such as plantains, coffee, sugarcane and citrus fruits were destroyed. However, some farmers were able to maintain some areas to feed themselves when no other food sources were available.
  7. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $1 billion in aid and more than four million meals. They have also provided clean, safe drinking water.
  8. #ChefsforPuertoRico provides meals to thousands of Puerto Ricans. It is run by celebrity chef Jose Andrés alongside Puerto Rican chefs to ensure access to food each day.
  9. Volunteer efforts are ongoing. High school students worked to assemble easy to cook, nutritious and allergy-free meals to send to Puerto Rico as recently as February 2018. The meals they assemble stay good for up to three years before cooking, which makes them easy to transport.
  10. Even with these efforts, more aid is still necessary. Federal aid alone has not been sufficient and increasing the resources sent to Puerto Rico would help ensure sufficient healthy food access for all the residents of the island.

Even though hunger in Puerto Rico increased after the devastating hurricanes in 2017, the numbers are now decreasing, largely thanks to volunteer efforts and island restoration. Further, rebuilding opens a possibility to develop an environmentally and socially sustainable island that could alleviate the high rates of hunger and poverty, allowing Puerto Rico to endure the effects of a future hurricane more easily.

– Hayley Herzog

Photo: Flickr

The Fight For Aid to Puerto RicoThe island of Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria’s landfall in September 2017. Power outages, food shortages and a lack of coordination from disaster relief organizations have jeopardized an entire island inhabited by U.S. citizens. Timely aid to Puerto Rico has become detrimental to the island and as the U.S. government’s funding shrinks, so do many of the people’s chances of prosperity.

Insufficient Funding

Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello requested approximately $94.4 billion from the U.S. federal government: $31 billion for housing and $17 billion to reestablish power. The federal government initially offered only around $4.7 billion in loans, but the offer has since shrunk. The aid to Puerto Rico from the U.S. has been cut in half, now at around $2.2 billion.

Congress’ plan allocated a total of $90 billion in disaster relief for Texas, Florida and California, combined with Puerto Rico’s aid. In comparison, Hurricane Sandy garnered around $37 billion in aid to New Jersey alone. Needless to say, $90 billion is an insufficient amount to counter the enormous wreckage these four U.S. territories endured in the past year. Aid to Puerto Rico is the most crucial concerning total loss, yet it is the least prioritized based on governmental decisions for funding placement.

One reason aid to Puerto Rico is scarce is due to the U.S. Treasury Department’s unwillingness to help, suspecting the small island of having a central cash balance that isn’t low enough, despite the island’s debt of $74 billion.

FEMA explains the $2.2 billion is divvied up between housing repairs, at around only $620 million, and other needs at $510 million. This funding, along with other FEMA programs, has helped 130,000 Puerto Ricans and housed fewer than 10,000. These numbers fall short of what’s needed to supply appropriate aid to Puerto Rico.

Misplaced Trust

The federal government and FEMA have also given enormous funds to small, often understaffed or simply untrustworthy organizations to supply help.

One example is Bronze Star, LLC, a Florida company that was granted 30 million to supply tarps and plastic sheets for temporary roof repairs for those without proper shelter. By November of the same year, the contract was nulled and funding was withdrawn as the company did nothing to deliver. The entire process of approval and cancellation took four crucial weeks.

Another example is Tribute Contracting, LLC, whose sole employee was awarded a lofty $156 million as part of a plan to disperse nearly 30 million meals. The contract and funding were withdrawn after the company served only 50,000 people, failing over 18 million others who requested the nutritional aid in Puerto Rico. Since the cancellation, the owner has publicly accused the U.S. government of making her a scapegoat for FEMA’s decision-making.

Looking Ahead

Aid to Puerto Rico is improving, but there’s still much to do. With FEMA’s teetering funding, much of the island is being repaired by its inhabitants and some private investors looking to help. Still, 16 percent of the island is without electricity, leaving 200,000 U.S. citizens without it for 6 months.

Locals and visitors to the island have already made tremendous improvements and repairs since the hurricane hit, but much more work still needs to be done. Most Puerto Ricans don’t have the luxury of waiting for help to come and are forced to do what they can.

– Toni Paz

Photo: Flickr