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Puerto Rico Still Needs Our Help

Puerto Rico Still Needs Our Help

It’s been nine months since Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, and still any hope of a full recovery seems far off.

Power is still spotty in some areas. Access to clean water remains a concern. Hundreds of schools are shutting their doors permanently. And making matters worse: Hurricane season is upon us once again. 

Humanitarian groups must now balance recovery efforts with measures to brace islanders for the inevitability of more summer storms. Here are five initiatives where you can get involved:

Reinforce a fragile power grid with renewable energy

Many of the problems still plaguing Puerto Rico can be traced back to the mass power outages that came in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The island’s entire electrical grid was destroyed, leading to the largest blackout in U.S. history. Nearly half of Puerto Rico remained in the dark for more than six months. And while the government of Puerto Rico says that 95% of the island’s grid is back online, residents say power is still inconsistent.

Empowered by Light, a San-Francisco-based non-profit, is outfitting fire stations across the island with solar power and energy storage systems. The group has already started building solar micro-grids at eight separate fire stations. Next, they plan to build a solar energy system at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which coordinates emergency efforts across the island. 

“We’re making fire stations our first priority because the fire fighters play a critical role in keeping Puerto Ricans safe during emergency situations, including hurricanes,” said the group’s co-founder, Marco Krapels. You can donate to their organization here.

Increase access to clean water with at-home filtration

The widespread power outages triggered ripples of other problems. Without electricity, water could no longer be pumped to residents' homes and filtration systems were at left a standstill. Local authorities say that water service has been restored to 96% of customers as of early June. Still, Kaiser Health News reports that water flow and quality remains unreliable. 

To increase access to clean water, particularly in the rural regions of the island, Operation Agua has distributed 75,000 Kohler Clarity water filters across Puerto Rico. Each filter costs around $30 and is suitable for households where there’s still intermittent access to clean water. The initiative is run by American Federation of Teachers, the Hispanic Federation, Operation Blessing International, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. You can track their weekly progress toward delivering 100,000 filters to residents in need. 

Demand accountability from FEMA

Residents complain that FEMA’s response has been slow at best, borderline “inhumane” at worst, and lacking transparency all around. 

An astounding 60% of household applications for relief assistance have been rejected in Puerto Rico. Compare that to the 30% denial rate that Texans saw in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The prevalence of informal housing, where deeds are exchanged with a handshake rather than with signed documents, has made the process of proving home ownership exceptionally difficult for many islanders. But elected officials say that’s not the full story of why Puerto Ricans are being denied help.

A group of 20 congressional Democrats wrote a letter to FEMA this month after a recent study revealed that government agencies had grossly undercounted the number of fatalities caused by Hurricane Maria.

"The inability to obtain an accurate accounting of fatalities following a natural disaster that occurred on U.S. soil has real and significant consequences," they wrote. "We are extremely concerned by the ongoing inability to obtain an updated, accurate death toll from Hurricane Maria, and the Trump Administration's failure to provide any assistance or demand accountability in that process."

You can echo their sentiments by contacting FEMA Administrator Brock Long by phone (202.646.2500) or by tweet (FEMA_Brock) and urge him to step up FEMA aid to Puerto Rico.

Build alternatives in access to education

Puerto Rico was already suffering through the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history before the hurricane struck. The lingering vestiges of its debt crisis, steep  budget cuts, lagging enrollment rates and slowed hurricane recovery has led to planned closures at more than 250 schools by the end of June. That’s on top of the 150+ schools that were shuttered last year.

Save the Children has a two-year strategy for helping in recovery efforts and establishing pathways for education. The international aid group is focusing on expanding access to learning, providing nutritional support — particularly for infants and toddlers — and overall child safety and well-being. You can donate to the roughly 30 communities in Puerto Rico that Save the Children has identified as the most in need of support and services.

Support long-term recovery

Donate to the Maria Fund, established by the Center for Popular Democracy to support the rebuilding of low-income Puerto Rican communities. Their focus is on long-term recovery and solutions to the lingering issues rooted deeply in Puerto Rico’s colonial history. 

Foundation for Puerto Rico is a non-profit established in 2011 to help with the island’s economic recovery. They have already raised $4 million in hurricane relief efforts. Here’s a detailed plan of how they’re putting donations to use.

La Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica de Puerto Rico, a farmer-led organization working to support farmers and rebuild the island's food sovereignty (recommended by the Brooklyn-based, Puerto Rican-led group UPROSE).

The Vieques Love campaign is focused on the island of Vieques, which has been cut off from federal help even though for decades it was used by the federal government for naval bombing practice.

The Friends of Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Recovery Fund, a nonprofit raising funds specifically for Puerto Rico's thirteen Boys & Girls Clubs.

Additional reporting by Chris Vaeth.

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