Unprecedented coastal erosion events, such as those currently affecting San Juan and residents in other areas, are the most recent sign of global warming and its effects that pose a major threat to islands like ours. Mitigation and adaptation to climate change must become a state priority for Puerto Rico.
Scientific authorities are investigating the causes of this particular event that caused the loss of beaches in the areas of Ocean Park and Punta Las Marías. However, local oceanographers already reported rising sea levels on the island in recent years. Puerto Rico cannot continue to turn its back on a reality that affects the safety and health of the population and seriously impacts the economy.
The loss of meters of beach poses a growing risk to the safety of residents and visitors in these metropolitan communities. Local and international tourists visit these areas. It is urgent to assume this situation as an emergency.
Neighbors affirm that they have not seen such a scenario in the northern strip for decades. While waves destroy walls in businesses and homes, the government seems to stand back in an anachronistic bureaucracy.
Absurdity goes so far as to ask those affected to document the damage in order to apply for an emergency permit that, if approved, would allow them to take measures to protect their property. They must also apply for a certification from municipal or state offices for Emergency and Disaster Management, and get a certified engineer to propose a possible temporary solution to erosion damage. Only then the DNER would evaluate if it intervenes to protect the structure at risk.
The situation comes at a time when the U.S. Corps of Engineers has been studying the loss of coastal land in municipalities from Cabo Rojo in the southwest, and northern and eastern areas up to Humacao since last year. This is a three-year study seeking to identify alternatives to reduce damage to structures as a result of storm waves and erosion.
The option decided out of these three action scenarios will be announced in April 2020, and the final report would take another year. Some of the solutions could cost up to $ 1 million per mile of beach.
Meanwhile, the legislature is considering a measure seeking to order a 20-year moratorium on new construction projects on the coast, an effort driven by the scientific community for years without success.
62 percent of our population lives in coastal municipalities. We cannot afford to lose our beaches, which attract visitors and one of the island's main assets.
Experts agree that the central government and municipalities need to act immediately, consulting and coordinating with the most affected communities.
Severe beach erosion is the most recent but not the only effect of climate change. Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared last July as the hottest month in 140 years. This week, most of our southern coastal municipalities are classified as severely drought-prone, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Another part of the central and southeastern areas was under moderate or abnormally dry drought.
Ice melting accelerated at the poles last July causing the rise in sea levels that is devastating to our beaches. Scenarios like the one we see on the coasts are not isolated: they are part of a global reality closer and closer to become irreversible.
Responses to climate change must be a priority for Puerto Rico. Citizens are aware of that. It is up to the government to realize that and respond swiftly.