The Atlantic takes a look at current conditions in Puerto Rico, and wonders if they can recover from Maria and be prepared for the next storm:
Here is the answer to the author’s question: No, they won’t recover in time.
Puerto Rico still doesn’t know how many people died from Hurricane Maria. The official death toll of people drowned in floods, killed by landslides, caught in collapsed houses, or who perished from environmental or health problems in the immediate aftermath of the storm seven months ago sits at 64. By just about all accounts, that is an undercount by at least an order of magnitude. A New York Times review of daily mortality rates found just over 1,000 more people died during and after the storm than expected. Additional analyses suggest similar figures. Governor Ricardo Rosselló is expected to release a full review of the island’s death toll next month.
One difficulty in making these grisly calculations is that Puerto Ricans are still dying from Hurricane Maria. The storm erased the island’s power grid and crushed critical health-care infrastructure, and then the tepid disaster-recovery response allowed infectious disease and mental-health issues to fester for months. There are still plenty of significant health-care challenges on the island that stem from Maria. And even as recovery stretches on, the bodies are counted, and the public-health system scrambles to avoid capsizing, the next hurricane season looms just a couple months away.
But even when the lights are on and hospitals run smoothly, demographic, geographic, and political features all contribute to a slate of inherent health challenges. Puerto Rico has experienced mass outmigration to the mainland over the past few decades, leaving behind on the island a population that is disproportionately elderly and sick. Puerto Rico has a health profile more akin to developing countries and poor communities of color than to the United States as a whole. Infant mortality has always been higher on the island than on the mainland. The infectious-disease burden is also higher than on the mainland, with forests and damp places on the island serving as reservoirs for old tropical-fever diseases that have all but been forgotten on the north side of the Caribbean.
In order for Puerto Rico to recover, both the US government and the territory’s government must get serious about reconstruction. Jamaica and Grenada, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, both got into financial crises in the early part of the decade, but by getting serious about reform, they have begun to turn their weak economies around. Grenada has totally overhauled its debt structure and Jamaica is slowly becoming an IMF success story.
This doesn’t mean the countries are suddenly paradises and models of good governance. But it does mean the governments there actually want to solve their country’s problems and are willing to work to do it.
Turning an economy as badly run as Puerto Rico’s around is a thankless job and will take hard work, and a willingness of both the US government and especially the Puerto Rican government to enact real change. So far, the Puerto Rican government has indicated it doesn’t want change. Instead, the governor wastes much of his time campaigning against Trump and continuing to press for bailouts and statehood from the US government.
Rosello fully understands statehood will probably never happen. But the campaign for statehood and bailouts makes it easy for him to blame the territory’s problems on the US, which in turn allows him and the rest of the government to loot the aid dollars coming into Puerto Rico with the peoples’ attention on the hated “colonialist” US. Given the “hidden” money in the banks, and the dubious contracts PREPA is making, it’s reasonable to expect that most of the aid money will also be misused or just stolen.
Given how irresponsible and corrupt the Puerto Rican government is, Washington should be investigating them and seeking to remove them from power, and if necessary, imposing direct rule. Unfortunately, there’s just not much impetus in DC to do anything with Puerto Rico other than use it as a tool for Trump-bashing since Puerto Rico doesn’t vote in presidential elections.
I see little hope of reform and I think Puerto Rico has another “lost decade” ahead of it.