Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico, and the Responsibility to Act in Times of Crisis


When access to information translates to the urgent need to act in the face of a humanitarian crisis.

As part of my NDSR Art residency at the University of Pennsylvania, I am working to develop guidelines to protect this nation’s achievements for the historical record. Part of what drives my dedication to this profession is the belief that by preserving and providing access to knowledge we can learn about and understand others. And through that understanding, foster tolerance and empathy. This professional tenet, the belief that access to information can enact meaningful change, is the reason I am sharing the following information.

Last week, Puerto Rico, my home, was hit by Hurricane Maria. The category 4 hurricane bisected the island from the southeast to the northwest, and was the fifth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the US. It devastated our electric grid, caused major flooding, provoked a dam failure, destroyed our roads, and prompted an island-wide telecommunication meltdown.

Worse than the hurricane, however, has been the lack of response.

The hurricane hit more than a week ago. Aid has not yet been distributed across the island. In Mayagüez, an area still affected by the shortage of telephone service, dialysis patients lack the electricity needed for treatment. The electric generators in the island’s hospitals are running out of diesel. The few locations offering essential services are being overwhelmed. People do not have access to insulin and other critical medical supplies.

Meanwhile, the lack of electricity means people cannot take out the cash needed to buy food. Water is in short supply. People living in small towns like Las Marías lack potable water and are running out of food because they are trapped in their communities, due to the obliteration of the roads. These situations keep on replaying across the island.

People are dying.

The hurricane claimed at least 10 lives on the island, but the ineffective response is killing more.

The news coverage has been slow to pick up the dire circumstances on the ground. Meanwhile, the federal government has lacked the urgency to take decisive action.

I have been asked to recommend places to donate, but the extent of the crisis demands legislative action to ensure long-term recovery.

Reach out to your representatives and ask them what they are doing to help Puerto Rico.

Tell them to:

  • Put a stop to the bureaucracy that is preventing food and other emergency supplies on the ports from being distributed across the island.
  • Make sure that the currently waived Jones Act is repealed. This law has hindered the economic growth on the island even during the best of times and its restrictions will be draconian as Puerto Ricans work to recover from the devastation.
  • Urge FEMA to deploy additional rescue and relief resources, as well as provide cell towers to allow the communication of residents and relief workers.
  • Pass bankruptcy relief legislation and negotiate public debt relief immediately. People’s lives must be the government’s priority while the island recuperates from this humanitarian crisis.

We are US citizens who have served in every major war, who contribute to the progress of this country, and when Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean, we rose to the challenge of helping our neighbors in need. But, above all we are human beings that deserve better. The current situation is critical and the response to this crisis has been slow and inhumane.

If we don’t try to do everything in our power to help Puerto Rico, we will have contributed to a national catastrophe. The historical record will show that the US failed.

 

Text “Resist” at 50409 and copy/paste the list above. It only takes 5 minutes. You can also call your representative at 202.224.3121.