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.


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

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 RicoPuerto 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 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

full recovery in puerto ricoTwo months after category four Hurricane Maria made landfall on the U.S. territory island of Puerto Rico, bringing with it massive damages and a heavy reconstruction cost, recovery efforts are still under way. So, how is Puerto Rico doing now?

Director of research and analysis for the global medical nonprofit Direct Relief, Andrew Schroeder, indicates that a full recovery in Puerto Rico will take time. He states that the situation on the island, “remains quite serious and will require significant support for some time to come.”

In addition, PBS NewsHour reports that 44 percent of the island remains without power, and despite FEMA presence and efforts to up government funding for relief, the island remains in critical condition. As the efforts continue, some individuals and celebrities have taken up the cause to help bring about a full recovery in Puerto Rico.

Among those most notable for their advocacy and relief efforts for Puerto Rico is Tony, Emmy, Pulitzer and Grammy award winning composer and lyricist Lin Manuel Miranda. The Hamilton playwright and actor of Puerto Rican descent has been vocal in his support for aid to the island and joined thousands in a Unity March for the Puerto Rico in Washington D.C. Miranda has also taken to Twitter to urge the administration to keep up the recovery efforts, saying, “we still need your help” to President Trump.

Miranda took it a step further when he released a single, “Almost Like Praying,borrowing its title from Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story, which features Puerto Rican immigrants. This single brings together top musical names such as Marc Anthony, Luis Fonsi, Gloria Estefan and Jennifer Lopez, among others, who have banded together to perform this song written for and benefiting Hurricane Maria victims. The charity single debuted as a Top 40 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at number 20 in sales, and brought in 5.2 million streams in its first week alone.

A month later, Miranda announced that he will be reprising his role as Alexander Hamilton in his award winning musical for a two week performance at the University of Puerto Rico’s campus in San Juan. He has since stated that he had dreamed of bringing Hamilton to the U.S. island territory since it’s move off Broadway two years ago, but now hopes bringing Hamilton will help stimulate a full recovery in Puerto Rico’s economy after Hurricane Maria.

Lin Manuel Miranda joins many celebrities and artists not willing to give up their shot at helping rebuild Puerto Rico.

– Belén Loza

Photo: Flickr

Despite having occurred nearly two months ago, Hurricane Maria, a category five hurricane, wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, with relief efforts unable to catch up with the severity of the storm. In the day after the storm, the entire island had lost power, five percent of the island had cell service and only 40 percent of gas stations were equipped with supplies. Forty-five days later, only 41 percent of the island has power, 92 percent has cell service and 84 percent of gas stations are up and running.

The catastrophic nature of the storm has also had implications for education. Three weeks after the storm, nearly half of all primary and secondary schools on the island remained closed. College students, too, have been displaced by the storm, making it impossible for them to gain access to education on the island. However, U.S. colleges have sought to ameliorate this problem by providing education to Puerto Rican students for the Spring 2018 semester.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, some students had already started classes by rerouting themselves to Florida, where tuition discounts were being offered to those whose home institutions were unable to reopen. For Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands students, the State University of New York system, which includes schools like Binghamton, Purchase and Geneseo, made the decision to reduce their tuition to the rate of New York state residents. Rather than pay nearly $40,000 a year to attend, student rates would be approximately $25,000, leaving more fluidity for family assets to go toward home reparation, water access, etc.

Other large U.S. universities have also offered to provide education to Puerto Rican students starting in the spring. Tulane University, Brown University, Cornell University and New York University each have opened their doors to students from Puerto Rico. New York University will provide 50 students with free tuition, housing, health insurance and a meal plan for the spring semester. Tulane opened its doors to Puerto Rican students tuition-free. Cornell offered up to 58 students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) free tuition, room and board. Finally, Brown University shared that they would offer similar amenities plus assistance with travel to students at UPR.

Liberal arts colleges, too, have offered Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands students the opportunity to attend for the spring semester. Amherst College—one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation—has offered to cover tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation, health insurance and students’ spring tuition at their home institutions. Though their program is similar to that offered by other institutions, Amherst’s is unique by paying the students’ home schools for their missed semesters so as not to financially detriment them, as well.

In looking to provide education to Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria, these programs will manage to accommodate a wide number of students who may otherwise not be able to gain access to education for the spring semester. With continued support to the island nation, by the end of the year, education to Puerto Rican students of all ages will be back on track.

– Emily Chazen

Photo: Flickr

The causes of hunger in Puerto Rico range from a number of significant and complex problems, but nothing is worsening the problem faster than its economic conditions and more recently, natural causes.

In 1898, the Spanish-American War brought an end to nearly four centuries of colonial rule. The United States acquired the island of Puerto Rico, now regarded as a U.S. territory. In 1917, Puerto Ricans gained U.S. citizenship, and similarly to inhabitants of states in the U.S., they hold democratic elections for local and state government and have their own constitution.

In recent years, Puerto Ricans have dealt with deteriorating infrastructure, a 45 percent poverty rate, severe water pollution, lack of educational resources and a massive public debt crisis. A byproduct from most of these problems is the prevailing issue of hunger in Puerto Rico.

Economic Turmoil

Puerto Rico is more than $70 billion in debt and as of 2016, public debt accounted for 92.5 percent of their entire GDP. These circumstances are unique: understanding how they acquired such debt requires understanding the basic history of their economic policy as well as few key events that have taken place over the last century. What has transpired can be compared to that of a domino effect.

The first “domino” to fall, by and large, was government overspending. Unlike states in the U.S. that are mandated to create and present balanced budgets, Puerto Rico is not. This resulted in overall spending significantly exceeding that of its tax-generated revenue.

Puerto Rico’s tax collection is one of the lowest in the world, deriving just 9.5 percent of its GDP from taxes in 2016. The CIA World Factbook report ranked the island 215 out of 220 countries in terms of taxation revenue, ranking only above Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.

Secondly, for decades, due to its lack of statehood, the island was able to serve as a tax shelter for U.S. businesses, particularly pharmaceutical companies. During this time, economic prosperity reached a peak for the island. However, as of 2006, Congress eliminated these tax breaks entirely, resulting in total economic devastation for the island after most businesses moved back to the mainland.

There is also a rapid rate of skilled professionals leaving the island for the U.S. Many estimates assert that almost one doctor per day leaves the island, sometimes as many as two or three.

The economy has contracted each year since and recovery is unlikely. The GDP real growth rate has become one of the slowest in the world, at 0 percent in 2015 and then falling to -1.8 percent in 2016.

The final, and perhaps largest, hurdle the island must resolve in regards to its debt is that unlike other U.S. states, Puerto Rico cannot legally file for Chapter Nine Bankruptcy. This means that they are not only, by all definitions of the word, bankrupt, but that they also have no safety net or alternative resolution.

Agriculture, Trade and Commerce

Historically, agriculture has only accounted for 0.8 percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP. However, following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, it is estimated that it only took the storm a few hours to destroy $780 million worth of crops or about 80 percent of the island’s total supply. This prompted immediate food shortages and inflated food prices, causing poverty and hunger in Puerto Rico to instantly become a new reality for thousands of residents.

Trade and commerce, as well as the supply of aid, were affected in the aftermath of the storm, specifically in relation to the Jones Act of 1920. The act mandates that all goods shipped to and from the island (or between any two U.S. ports) must be on guarded, U.S. vessels that are operated by Americans. As a result, foreign logistics companies wishing to do such business have to pay a special tariff.

When considering Puerto Rico’s poverty rate, this is devastating to those experiencing hunger in Puerto Rico. Inevitably, Puerto Ricans will continue to pay significantly more for consumer goods and services than those who live on the U.S. mainland.

Hurricane Maria’s Role in Puerto Rico Hunger

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017.  The death toll reached 48 as of October 14, 2017, with 117 individuals remaining unaccounted for. In addition, an estimated 85 percent of the island remains without power, about 1.2 million people are without access to clean drinking water and the preexisting issue of hunger in Puerto Rico is only becoming worse.

Since then, President Donald Trump and his administration have maintained that all relief efforts are being exhausted to the fullest extent possible. This narrative conflicts with many accounts from Puerto Rican government officials, who have said the response at the federal level has been slow moving and inadequate.

Governor Ricardo Rossello has publicly stated on multiple occasions that the territory is in desperate need of further federal assistance, describing the situation as a “humanitarian crisis.” Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, has also made headlines in the recent weeks following her televised plea to the federal government, saying “I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying … you are killing us with the inefficiency.”

Initially, Mr. Trump cited geographical concerns that present significant logistical problems to be the cause of this. “This is an island, surrounded by water, big water. Ocean water,” Trump said in a September 2017 speech in Washington, D.C.

However, during a press conference while visiting the island, was quick to cite the island’s budget crisis, saying, “I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you have thrown our budget a little out of whack. We have spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.”

Additionally, while the administration did temporarily exempt the territory from the Jones Act, this exemption expired October 8, 2017.

In a recent survey conducted by the New York Times, just over half of the U.S. population is unaware that individuals born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. Fortunately, many informed U.S. citizens support providing aid to Puerto Rico: among those who are aware that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, 81 percent think aid should be provided.

Hunter Mcferrin

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Poverty in Puerto RicoPuerto Rico, also known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, is a self-governing organized territory of the United States of America. This means that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the U.S. Approximately 3.3 million people live on the island but, due to rising problems, a larger mass exodus is occurring than in the 1950s. Here are 10 facts about poverty in Puerto Rico.

  1. 43.5 percent of Puerto Ricans are living below the poverty line. This is more than double the amount of citizens living in Mississippi. The poverty level, as defined by the Health and Human Services in 2017, was $20,420 a year for a family of three, or $24,600 for a family of four. The median income of Puerto Rican households is a little over $19,000 per year.
  2. The unemployment rate of Puerto Ricans is 10.1 percent as of April 2017. The main reason for this is a lack of jobs and the slow rate of economic improvement.
  3. Puerto Rican youth from the ages of 16-24 have higher rates of non-participation in school and in work as opposed to other racial groups living in the United States. Youth without high school diplomas are three times more likely to be unemployed, underemployed or working for very low wages.
  4. Puerto Ricans have a higher risk of cancer, diabetes, alcohol consumption, asthma and infant mortality rates. Puerto Ricans have a 33.7 incidence rate per 1,000 counts while this rate is only 18.7 among non-Hispanic whites.
  5. Puerto Rico has had to close 184 public schools due to the economic crisis. In an effort to save millions of dollars, 27,000 students will have to relocate to a different school. When many children are frequently absent from school, usually they are impoverished, violence in the community can arise, there are high rates of diseases and these children have to deal with stresses such as caring for siblings. Enrollment in schools has declined about 40 percent over the last decade.
  6. Poverty in Puerto Rico has also been affected by the large cuts to the healthcare industry in March 2017. Puerto Rico Medicaid and Medicare rates are about half of what other U.S. states get and nearly all that money is in danger of being exhausted.
  7. Puerto Rico’s drinking water system has been tested and found with elevated levels bacteria and chemicals as of May 2017. The drinking water has also failed lead safety regulations. Meanwhile 70 percent of the island is served by that same water. The government-run water utility company, while neglecting to conduct the required safety tests, routinely shows failing results for the safety tests they do conduct, according to a new NRDC report.
  8. Puerto Rico is unable to provide its citizens with effective support due to its crippling debt. The island has a debt of approximately 123 billion dollars.
  9. Population decline will hinder the island’s ability to recover and grow. As many Puerto Ricans leave the island, there will be fewer workers, which in turn leads to less productive capacity and lower consumer demand.
  10. 640,000 Puerto Ricans on the island receive food stamps.

These 10 facts about poverty in Puerto Rico might seem daunting. However, there have been many steps to help combat the issue on the island. Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello released a $9.6 billion spending plan to reduce the island’s debt, which can help relieve many of the issues stated above. There is speculation that The Jones Act will be repealed which means that it would improve the island’s maritime industry, adding new jobs and reducing costs of Puerto Ricans goods.

The 10 facts about poverty in Puerto Rico stem from the economic turmoil that the island has been experiencing. Once the island sees a rise in the economy and starts implementing positive strategies that spur growth, the poverty rate in Puerto Rico should start declining.

– Lorial Roballo

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