The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Hurricane Maria Catalyzes Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure and Economic Issues

In September, Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, made direct landfall on Puerto Rico, devastating the unincorporated U.S. territory. The 3.4 million population has been left with a limited food supply, fuel, cell service and medical care. Homes and roads have been destroyed, and the entire island was left without electricity. Puerto Ricans need electricity to get clean water from the faucet and flush the toilet. They need it to keep their air conditioning systems running. Without it, there is an increasing likelihood of illness developing from dirty water, waste that can’t be disposed, or heatstroke. 

The scale of this destruction caused by Hurricane Maria can be contributed to its lack of funds and crumbling infrastructure, which was replete with problems long before this year’s series of hurricanes. “It was subject to collapse even when there wasn’t an emergency or an event like this” remarked the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo A. Rosselló, in an interview with the New York times.

Puerto Rico’s energy system uses some of the least sustainable fuels, relying primarily on oil or coal. According to Judith Enck, the former United States Environmental Protection agency (EPA) administrator for Region 2, which includes Puerto Rico, power plants that required fossil fuels and unstable transmissions were the underlying issues with Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. Ricardo Ramos, the CEO of PREPA, the island’s utility provider, told CNBC that the company had lost more than three-quarters of its infrastructure to the storm. However, PREPA filed for bankruptcy in June, having $9 billion in debt and needing $4 billion to upgrade its infrastructure. Even without hurricanes, power outages are frequent on the island, with Puerto Ricans shockingly experiencing four to five times the number of service outages as U.S. customers on average, though they pay the second-highest rates in the U.S for unreliable and unsustainable power sources. But for years, PREPA hasn’t had the money to invest in modernizing Puerto Rico’s electrical systems.

Compounding the issue of bad infrastructure is the fact that Puerto Rico’s government is broke and therefore can’t borrow money to fix its infrastructure. In May, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy and has since been trying to restructure more than $70 billion in debt. Certain US policies have contributed to Puerto Rico’s economic deterioration. One of them is the Jones Act, an antiquated law that “forces Puerto Ricans to pay nearly double for US goods through various tariffs, fees, and taxes”. Any goods shipped from one American port to another must be on American-made-and-operated ships, resulting in shipping to Puerto Rico being more costly due to the lack of competition among freighters. A 2012 report by two University of Puerto Rico economists found that the Jones Act caused a $17 billion economic loss from 1990 through 2010.  Suspending this Act has the potential to bring energy costs and consumer prices down. As a result, Puerto Rico cold invest in modernizing its infrastructure and establishing its own shipping industry, potentially becoming a shipping hub and stimulating employment.

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Puerto Rico’s economic issues have resulted in a brain drain over the years with the population decreasing by more than 8 percent since 2010. According to the Times, “the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13 percent higher than in 325 urban areas elsewhere in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to half that of Mississippi, the poorest of all 50 states.” This migration makes it harder for Puerto Rico’s economy to recover as they are faced with a lack of skilled workers as well as a sustainable workforce.

The future is not hopeful. President Trump’s response to the ongoing issues in Puerto Rico has been discouraging. He has told Puerto Rican officials that they should be proud that only 16 people were known to have died in Hurricane Maria, which has since risen to 34. He has criticized Puerto Ricans, telling them that they were not doing enough to help themselves, despite the fact that most are stranded, homeless and without any possessions. He has tossed paper towels and toilet paper into crowds of Hurricane Marina victims (attached a video for reference because it looks and is ridiculous). The Trump Administration has called on Congress to include a $4.9 billion Treasury loan for Puerto Rico within its disaster relief budget, thus further increasing Puerto Rico’s debt.

If you would like to help Puerto Rico, below are some charities that have 5 star ratings, according to Charity Navigator:

By Ananiya Neeck

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