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Nearly a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall, Puerto Rico continues to struggle with the deadly destruction left in its wake. The official death toll on the island has increased to 48 and over 100 remain unaccounted for. Thousands have fled to the mainland, thousands more remain displaced, and government relief efforts grow at an appallingly slow pace. Approximately 82 percent of residents of the island still do not have power, 35 percent do not have access to clean water, and only 45 of 70 hospitals are operating with electricity.
In their desperation for water, some Puerto Ricans are turning to potentially poisonous sources. There have been 10 reported cases, including four deaths, of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease transmitted through direct contact with the urine of infected animals or a urine-contaminated environment. Hunger also threatens the island, with FEMA officials recently acknowledging the severity of the food shortage. When their contract expired last week, one senior official estimated they were “1.8 million meals short.”
During all of this, the Trump administration and many members of Congress have responded with callousness and cruelty. President Trump took time to admonish the island and insist that the United States “cannot keep FEMA…in P.R. forever!” For its part, the House of Representatives passed an aid package that offered Puerto Rico a $4.9 billion loan, adding to the already overwhelming debt of an island where 43.5 percent of residents live below the poverty line and where an estimated 80 percent of the crop value was just wiped out.
As Ed Morales wrote for The Nation, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria “is the proverbial drop in the bucket for a weary populace ravaged not only by today’s bankruptcy and storms worsened by climate change, but by decades of colonial neglect.” He went on to warn that, “Puerto Rico is now the target not only for rapacious vulture funds trying to collect on debt, but also for exponents of Katrina-style ‘disaster capitalism.’”
Even with the callous response of the Trump administration and those who would profit off of Puerto Rico’s pain, the rest of us are not helpless. Here are just a few of the ways you can help on the ground right now while also pushing for a just recovery:
1. Call Congress to demand real aid, a permanent end to the Jones Act, and the cancellation of Puerto Rico’s debt. You can reach your representatives at 202-224-3121. For more on these asks, check out ColorOfChange’s petition, the demands from the Center for Popular Democracy, or the website Plan PR: A Just Ricanstruction.