Two years ago, a day like today, Puerto Rico suffered the worst shock in almost a century. The crisis revealed fragilities in an island ravaged by the fiscal and economic abyss and the strengths of its people who showed maturity and determination.
Since that September 20, we Puerto Ricans have lived through what days before was unimaginable: months in the dark due to a collapsed power grid, almost 3,000 dead during the months of the emergency, and a governor stepping down following the demands of a renewed island that rejects mistreatment. Although its challenges are enormous, Puerto Rico is, undoubtedly, a different Puerto Rico.
In a few days, the government’s debt adjustment plan will be announced, it will bring drastic budgetary changes that will impact the people. There are still enormous social challenges to overcome until we reach a fairer Puerto Rico. And there still necessary actions to be taken in an integrated approach to mitigate and adapt to the more than evident effects of climate change.
Along these two years, despite the U.S. government’s commitment to allocate millions of dollars, not a single permanent improvement project has been completed by the Department of Transportation and Public Works. There are still thousands of signs and dozens of traffic lights to replace. Every day, locals and tourists risk their safety as they move along more than a thousand roads that have not been repaired.
Meanwhile, the Electric Power Authority anticipates it will take seven years for the energy system to reach the strength it requires to provide a reliable and efficient service. With so much public infrastructure destroyed and about 30,000 homes still with tarps, it is evident that Puerto Rico still has to go a long way to be better prepared for another natural event.
Undertaking reconstruction is the most urgent action to overcome economic stagnation and set competitiveness on track. There is an urgent need for proactivity, swiftness, and productivity to take advantage of the millions of funds committed by the federal government. It is up to the government to define and present plans on time and execute them, in addition to joining forces with the social and economic sectors that have already demonstrated resilience.
At least since the change of government driven by the people, the island is beginning to regain credibility with the federal government. The perception of the new administration is that it has the will to eliminate corruption in the distribution of funds. It is necessary to turn the commitment into concrete actions.
Along with reconstruction, Puerto Rico has yet to strengthen its social infrastructure. Deaths after the hurricane revealed serious systemic deficiencies that require attention. It was evident that poverty and inequality exacerbated people’s vulnerability.
Studies have warned that the emotional impact of the tragedy on thousands of children and young people may last for years. They have also highlighted that women are in greater socioeconomic precariousness, even though domestic and community survival depended to a large extent on them.
In these two years, the Puerto Rican people have shown, with determination and solidarity, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Communities build their own protections against natural events. With the support of the third and private sectors, they build resilience centers, plant and establish solar energy systems to avoid repeating such a disaster. It is important to recognize and learn from these initiatives and give them the space they are entitled to in decision-making processes.
In two years, Puerto Ricans, particularly young people, have taken the lead in adopting innovative and cohesive solutions. They create sustainability. But the government cannot abandon its responsibility to provide services and facilitate economic and social mobility to the people. The experience after Hurricane María calls to get out of the comfort zone and embark, along with the people, on the historic task the island is facing.