Does the world sometimes seem like a dumpster fire of soiled linens? Do you want help, but feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of malice and incompetence baked into every square inch of human society?
Well that's why Cracked's running How To Help, a series dedicated to fixing the world's problems until they are all solved and we don't have to write this anymore. Last week we discussed family separation at the U.S. border. Today's topic is ...
How To Help Puerto Rico Rebuild After Hurricane Maria
Yes, we know what some of you are going to say. The Puerto Rico disaster is so 2017. When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the Caribbean in September 2017, it destabilized the entire region. But we did our bit for Puerto Rico. Stories were shared, money was donated, empathy was in the air. Then things settled down and we trusted the government to handle it from there. Except they didn't, and Puerto Rico is still having problems a year later. And without us starting to give a damn again, it'll become 2019's problem, then 2020's, and so on until we're explaining to our kids why a part of the most prosperous country in the world permanently looks like the last day of Burning Man.
The official government story of Puerto Rico's woes was simple: A bunch of freak hurricanes (not our fault, climate change isn't real) hit the U.S. territory (not even a state, so who cares) of Puerto Rico. 64 people died, billions of dollars of infrastructure damage was inflicted, but the government and FEMA did everything they could to restore the island to its former glory, with any and all difficulties during the recovery being the fault of the local population, who according to President Trump "want everything done for them." Oh, and some towels were thrown.
But the real disaster for Puerto Rico happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Untold homes were ruined, a gas crisis broke out, and perhaps worse of all, the electrical grid went dark for a long time. The average Puerto Rican spent 41 days without cell phone coverage, 68 days without water, and 84 days with no electricity.
That ridiculously slow infrastructure recovery proved to be lethal. A Harvard study asserts that 4,600 Puerto Ricans and counting have died because of the hurricane -- 70 times the government's official toll. Many of these deaths are attributed to people not being able to get any sort of medical care, which hit the chronically ill and elderly the hardest. It's really tricky to not just die from diabetes when the nearest insulin is a dozen flooded streets away and the local hospital has a weathered "BRB" Post-It stuck to the ER doors. And even if you did get your life-saving medicine, the only way to get your fridge running would be to tell it another hurricane was coming.
The region also suffered from a lethal outbreak of the bacterial disease leptospirosis, killing dozens. If you've never even heard of leptospirosis before this sentence, it's because officials chose to ignore it was happening. There's also a rash of desperate suicides going that is being seriously underreported.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
But because "Puerto Rico Is Still A Mess" isn't a headline you can run for 300 consecutive days, the island's story did not get the ongoing attention it deserved. (Also, the news was too busy talking about the Roseanne cancellation.) That was good for the government, because it gave them some extra time before they had to admit they screwed up bad. "Toddler eating spaghetti" bad, if that toddler then also willfully left three million people to fend for themselves in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In a report published July 12th, FEMA admitted that the government was wholly unprepared to deal with Puerto Rico's crisis. Hell, when the hurricane hit, FEMA's local warehouse was nearly empty because all of the island's emergency supplies had been used up for other weather emergencies.
Their housing relief efforts are particularly shameful. 79 percent of all housing aid appeals have been ignored or flat out denied by the agency, with most Puerto Ricans being deemed ineligible because they by can't provide the proper documents proving ownership. Because that's what you grab when Neptune decides to turn your house into a leaky aquarium -- first the deed, then the kids in order of how many utility bills they have on them. However, a bigger problem is that many Puerto Ricans didn't have that paperwork to begin with, having built their houses illegally, and if this government hears the words "illegal" and "Hispanic" in the same sentence, there's apparently a greater chance of them snatching the kids than offering any aid.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
FEMA was also ready to kick over 1,800 people out their housing assistance program, making about 700 of them straight up homeless, until a judge ordered them to, to put it bluntly, keep doing their goddamn jobs. But there is some good news. Finally, after nine months and about as many CEOs, Puerto Rico's power company has finally restored power to almost all of the island. That solved a lot of problems, and Puerto Rico is finally getting back on its feet ... just in time for the next hurricane season. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency has literally come out saying they're not up for managing another emergency. But sure, it's the Puerto Ricans who aren't carrying their weight.
Puerto Rico is still recovering, and there are still too many broken buildings and temporary blue tarps littered around the island for them to weather another storm. So click the links on top of this article, donate, and the next time someone asks about how you handle yourself in a crisis, you can honestly tell them "Better than FEMA does."
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And for a solid read about the people of Puerto Rico and its, quote, "ongoing colonial dilemma," check out Puerto Rico: What Everyone Needs To Know
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For more, check out how Zuckerberg's VR Tour Of Puerto Rico Proves He's An Alien and Trump Dedicated A Golf Trophy To Hurricane Victims. Neat.
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