One month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, too many are still waiting to receive aid and are relying on emergency supplies to survive.
Local organizations have stepped up with innovative responses, but aid has been slow to arrive and reach those in need, leaving too many still caught in a day-to-day crisis.
Less than half of the population has access to clean drinking water and aren’t able to boil water or cook without electricity, and without permanent shelter or tarps, many are forced to sleep on wet mattresses exposed to the ongoing heavy rains and other health hazards like rats and mold. This lack of aid and coordination makes life a daily struggle. Supplies like tarps, water filters, and chlorine could fix these immediate threats, but many still do not have these essentials. Vulnerable people in hard to reach and poor communities, and populations like the elderly, families with young children or those with special needs are running out of options.
“One month on from Hurricane Maria, too many Puerto Ricans are still relying on emergency aid for basic needs, and for many communities, self-sufficiency isn’t even on the horizon. At this stage in the humanitarian response, these conditions are unacceptable and we need to see a more robust and efficient response from the US government now,” said Shannon Scribner, Oxfam’s Acting Director for Humanitarian Programs & Policy.
“We need to be moving beyond providing emergency supplies like warm meals and bottled water to solutions like water filters and generators to stabilize communities while longer term recovery takes place,” Scribner continued. “Despite the work of first responders, this response is behind where it should be, and the people of Puerto Rico are paying the price.”
In early October, Oxfam made the decision to respond in Puerto Rico through local organizations, who were already engaged in getting vital aid to their communities. Without existing operations or partners in Puerto Rico, we assessed where our technical experience in humanitarian emergencies could best support the work led by local organizations and are continuing to identify opportunities to build out this work and reach the most vulnerable populations. Oxfam has already established our first two partnerships with local groups – one is to support the Mayor of San Juan’s office to provide vulnerable households with butane stoves to boil drinking water and cook, in addition to other emergency supplies. The second is with the Foundation for Puerto Rico, which is providing water filters, food, diapers, batteries and other products for the elderly, as well as cash for individuals to purchase other vital items like medicine.
Alex Borschow, Foundation for Puerto Rico board member said, “Foundation for Puerto Rico staff are working around the clock to respond to the urgent needs of our communities and we are discouraged by the conditions we’re witnessing at this point. We need more supplies, resources and coordination now to bolster the efforts of local groups and so Puerto Ricans feel they are getting the support they need and deserve.”
In addition to funding these local partnerships in Puerto Rico, Oxfam has been urging the U.S. government to fully fund the response and recovery, to waive burdensome cost-sharing obligations and other barriers to disaster relief, to provide debt relief to Puerto Rico, and to prioritize a locally-led response that reaches the most vulnerable people.
Without reliable water supply, electricity, phone service and other basic amenities, life in Puerto Rico is untenable, and mounting a humanitarian response is difficult. But, the United States has the resources and experience to overcome these obstacles to save lives now and to build the long-term sustainability of Puerto Rico. Oxfam is calling on our President, Members of Congress and leaders of the federal relief operations to step up and show the same generosity, commitment and ingenuity that the people of Puerto Rico and many others on the ground are showing every day.