Not a single region in Puerto Rico has its power fully restored, yet the Federal Emergency Management Agency has decided to end its humanitarian mission to the U.S. territory by Wednesday, according to NPR.
Update 1/31/18: Earther reached out to FEMA for comment on this matter, and the agency has informed Earther that a spokesperson miscommunicated with NPR when stating the mission in Puerto Rico would end Wednesday. Spokesperson Daniel Llargues clarified the mission is “not stopping.” Commodity distribution has decreased and even stopped in some municipalities, but that comes only after a mayor has requested it end to help “get the economy back online.” “Everything comes at the request of the municipalities, the mayors,” Llargues told Earther. Our original story on FEMA shutting off aid to Puerto Rico follows.
The mission began in September, immediately following Hurricane Maria, the Category 4 storm that devastated the island. It went completely dark, and communications to the outside world were nearly nonexistent for days after the hurricane. In the four months since then, things still aren’t quite back to normal: Suicide is on the rise. So is crime. And homes remain abandoned as islanders flee to the mainland.
So normal? Not quite.
The federal agency, however, appears to disagree. FEMA will “officially shut off” the mission, as it described to NPR. After all, the federal government has already given Puerto Ricans more than 30 million gallons of potable water and more than 60 million meals since the hurricane hit. With 92 percent of the region’s supermarkets running, FEMA just doesn’t believe it’s needed anymore. The state government and nonprofits can handle the rest, apparently.
“The reality is that we just need to look around,” Alejandro De La Campa, FEMA’s director in Puerto Rico, told NPR. “Supermarkets are open, and things are going back to normal.”
But despite what FEMA says—the agency has gotten flak
in the past for the way it handled Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy—the facts speak for themselves. Only 46 percent of customers living in the island’s Caguas region to the east, for example, have power, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That number increases to 89 percent for people in the Ponce region to the south, and that’s the region with the most power restored. A third of Puerto Rico’s electricity customers remain without power. And many of the people with power have only temporary power from generators.
Still, FEMA isn’t forgetting about Puerto Rico completely. The agency wants to focus less on the emergency response and more on long-term recovery—like the island’s economy. Business owners literally cannot keep their stores open without customers, and people can’t spend the way they used to if they aren’t working.
“If we’re giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy,” De La Campa told NPR. “It is affecting the economy of Puerto Rico. So we need to create a balance. With the financial assistance we’re providing to families and the municipalities, they’re able to go back to the normal economy.”
Parts of the island still relies on this assistance, though. As NPR reports, in Morovis, 10,000 of its 30,000 residents still receive the food and water rations. People are using their income to buy fuel for their generators instead of spending it on food. (Well, those who can even afford a generator.) Multiple layers compound this situation, and some U.S. officials won’t stand by idly.
President Donald Trump will deliver his much-anticipated State of the Union address Tuesday, and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz—who’s been especially critical of the president’s response to the crisis—will be there as a guest of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico isn’t exactly new, but it’s only worsened in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.