After Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed Puerto Rico, the island and its people have been in dire need of rescue, including water, food, and other supplies. And, many people have been casting blame on the U.S. government for its response to the crisis. But, a closer look at the what was going on in Puerto Rico before the hurricanes hit may help to see that other factors could have contributed to the current crisis. Here are five things you need to know about what could actually be at the root of the current Puerto Rican problems.
- Power Grid In Need of Upgrade and Replacement
Long before the arrival of either of the hurricanes, the Puerto Rican power grid was in bad shape. According to an article in the L.A. Times, the electrical grid was already “struggling to keep the lights on after a history of poor maintenance, poorly trained staff, allegations of corruption and crushing debt.” In fact, a fire in 2016 had already caused the grid to go down for three days. The two hurricanes served to bring to light just how bad the power grid situation already was.
- Financial Problems
According to an article published last July in the New York Times, the Puerto Rican government had filed for bankruptcy in order to “reduce the existing debt of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to a sustainable level.” Even though the government had said it did not expect the filing to cause any disruption to service, the move did highlight the fiscal problems the island government has been having and how they could impact utility service to the island.
- Doctor Shortages
Doctors have been exiting Puerto Rico for years. More than 1,000 “physicians and surgeons left Puerto Rico to live on the U.S. mainland, according to the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute,” this from an NBC News story from this past August. This exodus occurred during an eight-year period from 2005 through 2013 and has continued to the present time. With scarce monetary resources, Puerto Rico is challenged to be able to pay these doctors and provide working conditions that entice them to stay.
- Water Shortages
Back in May of this year, it was reported that 70 percent of the island of Puerto Rico “is served by water that violates federal health standards,” according to an NBC News story. With such a large amount of the available water essentially not fit to drink, a critical water shortage existed before the current hurricane damage was inflicted.
- High Unemployment
Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island in droves for many years. One reason is the high unemployment levels on the island. Compared to the mainland, the unemployment in Puerto Rico is double the national average. According to a recent article by CNN, “people leave every year by the tens of thousands.” With less good jobs and people constantly leaving, Puerto Rico was already experiencing a population decrease. With the help of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, that exodus might not only continue, but increase.
The current humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is important and needs to be a priority for the U.S. government. But, other issues do need to be examined. It appears that financial problems and possible mismanagement of assets, especially the power grid, could have been at least partially to blame. Long-term solutions need to be found, or it is hard to see how Puerto Rico survives the next hurricane to come its way.
[Feature Image by Carlos Giusti/AP Images]