March 20, 2018 will mark six months since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico and became one of the most devastating hurricanes to ever hit the United States.
Six months on, the island is far from recovery and hundreds of thousands of US citizens remain without power, water, roofs and jobs. The US government’s response in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane – and to this day – continues to be sluggish and inadequate, leaving thousands of vulnerable Puerto Ricans to fend for themselves.
“The harsh reality on the ground here is that the disparate treatment to Puerto Rico from the US government has actually prolonged and exacerbated the suffering of many people on the island,” said Adi Martinez-Román, Executive Director of the Access to Justice Fund Foundation, one of Oxfam America’s partners in Puerto Rico. “My organization helps people who are trying to get benefits through the Individuals and Households Program (IHP) of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – and it’s been a nightmare for so many. FEMA has been sluggish, inconsistent and lacking transparency in approving assistance for people whose lives were devastated by the hurricane. Literally thousands of families lost everything when the hurricane destroyed their homes. The bureaucratic delays leave families suffering for months on end.”
As Puerto Rico enters the second half of the year since the disaster struck, Oxfam continues to call for further funding dedicated to recovery and rebuilding, and the proper oversight to ensure that the funds reach those most vulnerable. We also call on Congress and the Administration to work to eliminate the barriers to accessing FEMA funds, including the lack of formal deeds.
Oxfam America’s latest research report, Far from Recovery: Puerto Rico Six Months After Hurricane Maria, finds that the US government’s response in Puerto Rico was delayed, mishandled and inadequate, despite the enormous resources spent and personnel mobilized. The weak staffing presence in the immediate relief efforts, and the size and speed of the distribution of food and tarps, undermined an effective response. The result is a humanitarian crisis that continues to this day.
The report also details the disproportionate impact of the hurricane due to Puerto Rico’s particular vulnerabilities to natural disasters, including a poverty rate more than three times higher than in the rest of the US (with a median household income roughly a third of the rest of the US); a national debt crisis; and a fragile and aging infrastructure. Combined with the lack of equal voting representation in Washington, Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents are clearly being left behind.
“The truth is that this moment provides an opportunity to build a better, more resilient Puerto Rico,” said Martha Thompson, Oxfam America’s Lead for Humanitarian Assessment and Program Manager for the Puerto Rico response. “But until the US government makes a serious commitment to doing so, the next hurricane season will most likely bring another round of destruction and suffering. The people of Puerto Rico are our fellow citizens, and deserve better – we simply cannot wait for the next hurricane season to react.”
Oxfam America made the unusual decision to intervene in a humanitarian crisis in the US after monitoring the US government’s immediate response in Puerto Rico. Oxfam’s work has focused on supporting local partners, and has included distribution of water filters and solar lights, legal aid to vulnerable communities, and advocacy on Capitol Hill.
Note to editors:
For interviews with Martha Thompson, Adi Martinez-Román, or other Oxfam America partners in Puerto Rico, contact Senior Humanitarian Press Officer Lauren Hartnett at email@example.com and Humanitarian Press Officer Alyssa Eisenstein at Alyssa.firstname.lastname@example.org.