Washington - As part of the project that calls to reimagine Puerto Rico, a citizens committee presented in Washington its report with 17 priority recommendations to make the island stronger - physically, economically and socially- after the devastation caused by Hurricane María.
The Resilient Puerto Rico Advisory Commission (RPRAC) emphasized that the objective should not only be replacing old infrastructure but achieving a social and economic transformation throughout the island.
"Normality is not the goal," says the report – released first in San Juan – on the "ReImagina Puerto Rico" strategy, which contains 97 recommendations to government authorities and society in general, with 17 recommendations considered as immediate priorities.
"This document is the reference framework for reconstruction,” said RPRAC executive director, Malú Blázquez Arzuaga.
According to the report, priorities start by addressing the housing sector, due to informal construction problems - people without property titles - in Puerto Rico, and the need to have a reliable power grid.
Efforts seeking to bring into a legal framework those communities that have not complied with traditional regulations should prevent displacement and "promote access to affordable housing," said Blázquez Arzuaga, who led presentations at the National Press Club and the Hispanic Federation.
Regarding energy, the report points to the importance of establishing reliable and diversified backup systems for critical facilities, such as hospitals, schools, shelters and emergency shelters and services facilities that provide basic services to vulnerable population groups.
At times when reports and investigations estimate in hundreds or thousands the deaths caused by hurricane María - not the 64 initially certified by the Puerto Rican government - the report stresses the need to "enable access to backup energy equipment to vulnerable individuals that rely on electricity for medical aid".
In her presentation on Thursday before representatives of several groups at the Hispanic Federation offices in Washington D.C., Blázquez Arzuaga recalled that among the federal allocations promised to mitigate the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, there are up to $ 20 billion in community development block grant (CDBG) funds of the federal Department of Housing that will finance, among other things, housing projects and rebuilding the power grid.
For the Commission - co-chaired by banker Richard Carrión, doctor Carmen Milagros Concepción, president of the Center for the New Economy, Miguel Soto Class, director of Instituto Nueva Escuela, Ana María Blanco, and developer Federico "Friedel" Stubbe -, the third recommendation points towards the creation of community centers that would provide preschool education while offering a space for disaster relief services. The goal should be to build or enable them in communities that require more attention and basic services.
Improving schools and medical facilities infrastructure should be another priority.
In the fifth point, the Commission warns that is necessary to “prioritize Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding on training, re-training, and skills credentialing in priority industry clusters”.
Other key recommendations are updating “the island's digital land cadaster to include: use and occupancy of structures, land tenure data, housing characteristics in informal housing and information on insurance coverage," a study for deploying "more resilient telecommunication infrastructure using underground conduit systems and/or aerial using utility poles" and promote, efficiently, open spaces and private properties acquisition in high risk areas.
Before presenting the report, the Commission held 77 meetings, attended by 748 people, including non-profit associations, business leaders, professional associations, government officials and diaspora representatives.
The Commission is supported with funding of the Rockefeller Foundation – in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities organization –, Open Society Foundations and Ford Foundation.
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