In the wakePuerto Rico’s grassroots networks and mutual aid are responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona by providing food, water, and medical supplies to those in need. Local organizations respond quickly to community needs by recruiting volunteers, distributing resources and cleaning up after them.
“We have seen that the government is incapable of addressing the immediate survival needs of vulnerable communities, those vulnerable to climate change, economically vulnerable,” said Aurora Santiago-Ortiz, an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Because the government is unable to address these immediate needs for survival, folks have had to mobilize the little resources they have.”
The crisis has affected Puerto Ricans in the thousands. still without power Many without running waterThe federal government and large non-profits have historically been slow to provide immediate support. Many Puerto Ricans are in dire need of food, water, and medical equipment. As of Sept. 30, there were at least 50,000 Puerto Ricans without access to food, water, or medical supplies. 25 people died Due to Hurricane Fiona. At least five of these deaths were caused by Hurricane Fiona. accidents with generators or candles being used during the power outage.
Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and caused thousands of deaths. more than $90 billion Property damage was significant. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, heavily mismanaged its response to crisis. FEMA failed to provide adequate supplies and left the island to fend for itself. largest blackout in U.S. history. FEMA failed Puerto Rican officials to discuss the requirements, so Donald Trump, then-President, delayed and limited the waiver under the protectionist Jones Act. This prevented aid ships from reaching Puerto Rico.
Critical infrastructure needs — particularly for remote energy, communications, and water distribution systems — went unaddressed even before Maria and continue to lack requisite investment. Privatization of the electricity grid This has resulted in skyrocketing utility bills and failed to curb power outages. Recently, the Government Accountability Office reported Puerto Rico had spent less than 2% You can find the $28 billion It was meant to help with Hurricane Maria recovery. Several buildings are still damaged from that first disaster.
“We are seeing that five years after Hurricane Maria, we still have a very poorly resourced health care system, communication system, electrical power grid system, running water system, and public school system,” said Tania Rosario-Méndez, executive director of Taller Salud, a feminist grassroots organization based in Northeast Puerto Rico “With all the federal money that came for the recovery, we would have expected to at least have half of those systems in better hands, performing better, and with enhanced capacity to respond in a potential future crisis like this, which is foreseeable because we did not change our latitude.”
Many Puerto Ricans deplored the poor quality disaster relief that was provided to Puerto Rico in comparison to the relief provided to the mainland in response to Hurricane Harvey or Irma. as racist. Many locals have turned to mutual aid organizations to support them after the failure of the government’s response to Hurricane Maria. Mutual aid is a collaboration between volunteers and recipients of services. It aims to help disaster victims and address the root causes of poverty by organizing and advocating for the benefit of the community.
Brigada Solidaria del Oeste (BSO), one such mutual aid organization based in San Germán, has been coordinating response efforts in collaboration with other organizations in the areas of Puerto Rico most affected by the hurricane. BSO is collecting data about families in crisis, managing a quick-response collection facility, and organizing volunteer brigades to clear roads, deliver food to elderly and poor families. The organization is also preparing to open a center for food distribution.
Local nonprofits are also working to address immediate issues and invest in a sustainable future of Puerto Rico. Casa Pueblo distributed thousands of solar lamps to Puerto Ricans without electricity and entertained locals with its solar movie theatre. Casa Pueblo is a leader in the fight to increase energy independence in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Taller Salud opened two community kitchens and distributed resources to flood-stricken communities and elderly who are bedridden. Taller Salud’s annual community census helped them identify which communities would require assistance. They also prepared a stock of food, water, and other supplies before hurricane season began so that they could open their kitchens immediately to the public if there was a demand.
“Most of my staff is hired locally, so they live in the same communities where they work, and the distance from the need to the aid is shorter,” said Rosario-Méndez. “The Puerto Rican experience is that communities of color are highly underrepresented in mainstream organizations and the government in general. So if you have a commitment to uplift communities of color that are living in poverty, grassroots organizations are the way to go.”
Many large nonprofits have issued appeals for donations in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. However, these organizations are often not reliable partners to communities on ground and often redirect more funds to overhead costs rather than direct aid. Jorge Iván López-Martínez, a member of BSO, added that he has seen people take advantage of the disaster by establishing their own nonprofits and foundations, particularly wealthy foreigners benefiting from investment-related tax exemptions.
“Usually large nonprofits don’t have a direct relationship with our communities or move resources for internal work instead of addressing the people’s needs,” said López-Martínez. “We have witnessed how grassroots organizations have been assisting, since day one, many people in need without having to post or publish anything on social media nor creating fancy videos to let everyone know.”
While mutual aid organizations are doing the work, Rosario-Méndez said they will always lack the money and capacity to provide aid at the requisite scale. Santiago-Ortiz stated that U.S. Colonial policies and local mismanagement have created a gap in mutual aid networks’ services. She also expressed concern that the state will not be able to provide the necessary support for its citizens if it takes more responsibility. She acknowledged that the best way to help Puerto Ricans was to support grassroots organizations that distribute resources directly on the ground.
Many mutual aid groups accept material and monetary donations. Brigada Solidaria del Oeste I am asking for water purification tablets and solar lamps, water filters, first aid kits, and monetary donations via Paypal[email protected]). Casa Pueblo To continue providing solar lamps to Puerto Ricans who are without power, they are asking for donations. Taller Salud It accepts donations to aid in recovery efforts. The diaspora-based Puerto Ricans in Action This article offers additional suggestions on how to contribute to hurricane relief.
“Grassroots organizations [like us] will not stop working to strengthen our communities and our mutual aid networks,” said López-Martínez. “Like many people on the island have stated, ‘solo el pueblo salva al pueblo’ (only the people will save the people).”
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