Even the suicides have increased in the territory and the next hurricane season is not far
Official records say there were 64 deaths, but other research indicates that there are more than 1,000. It has been useful for Puerto Rico to be part of the United States after Hurricane Maria. Although the people in the capital survive, outside of San Juan the situation is quite difficult after seven months after the disaster. People in several regions do not have access to electricity, clean water, or medical services. Many had already left before the hurricane, but now migration has accelerated and even the banks are leaving the island.
While most tourist sites have water, electricity, and communications, thousands of Puerto Ricans live in areas that remain devastated after the storm and do not have access to basic services. In fact, there are entire cities that have no electricity since September 6, when Hurricane Irma passed through the north of the island. Two weeks later, María arrived, the worst storm in Puerto Rico in the last 80 years.
Without electrical energy, many things are complicated. For hospitals in remote areas, for example, it is difficult to report on the health status of people. According to a reporter from the Washington Post, who traveled to the island recently, doctors say the health crisis is much more serious than official reports suggest. One of the doctors consulted even said that there is a growing number of suicides since Maria.
Therefore, estimating the total number of deaths is as difficult as establishing how many people have left the island since the hurricane. According to the Statistical Institute of Puerto Rico, 184,000 people left between September and November, which menas the island lost 6% of its population in three months. However, people were already leaving the state for years. Before the hurricane season of 2017, thousands of Puerto Ricans had already left to look for better opportunities in the United States because of the economic recession that the island is experiencing.
The truth is that even the banks have moved away from Puerto Rico. According to Bloomberg, the number of consumer banks has halved in the last decade, and the main international players, the Bank of Nova Scotia and Banco Santander, have been quietly shrinking, leaving the field to local institutions.
Seen from that perspective, the hurricane is not even the worst thing that could have happened to Puerto Ricans, the situation was already in a tailspin from before. In fact, billions of dollars have gone into the economy of the island in aid for disaster. It could be said that the recession was worse before the storm and all the money that has gone in to alleviate the damage has also alleviated a bit the finances of the state. However, unless the government implements significant fiscal reforms, when the aid and activities related to the disaster cease, the economy will remain the same as before, if not worse.
Puerto Rico is not a country in the strict sense, but it would be better if it were, since it would probably receive more international support as it is not part of the United States. The response of American emergency agencies has been very limited compared to other disasters within the national territory. It is estimated that it may take years before basic services are re-established for the total population. Without electricity, with infrastructure problems and a health crisis, people continue to die as a result of María when there are only two months left until the next hurricane season. The administration needs to take very good advantage of the resources that are entering due to the disaster or debt and low productivity will end what is left of the island.
Latin American Post | Paula Bautista
Translated from “ Puerto Rico: Cuando ser estadunidense no te salva de las consecuencias de un huracán"