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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- #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.
- 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.
- 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