The 2019 hurricane season, the second after Hurricane María struck the island two years ago, comes to an end today Saturday with a mixed balance for Puerto Rico. Although this year the island did not face any major natural event, it is imperative to ensure that preparedness allows the island to resist strong atmospheric phenomena.
Commitment and collaboration by public authorities, private sectors, and communities are essential for the island to state that our capacity to resist and recover from the natural phenomena has grown.
Hurricane Dorian was the fiercest of the 20 hurricane events this last season. It did not affect our island, but the catastrophe that it caused in the Bahamas reminds us of our vulnerabilities. One of them is our geographical vulnerability. There is consensus in the scientific community that climate change will bring more high-intensity storms, such as María and Dorian, in the Caribbean.
There is also a social vulnerability associated with the fact that almost half of the population lives in poverty and to our economic downturn. Strengthening infrastructure during post-hurricane reconstruction processes should help correct such a situation.
There have been some advances. After some delays, most municipalities and state agencies updated their emergency plans this year. One of great impact and urgency is the one designed for the power grid modernization, which draws the map for the transformation of a system that remains fragile and prone to constant blackouts.
This is an important project, designed in collaboration with the U.S. government which seeks to integrate the private sector as an expert and investment partner. Puerto Rico needs a decentralized system powered by cheaper, cleaner energy and capable of withstanding heavy rains and winds.
In that line, protecting life and securing the supply chain is a crucial mission. A large part of the 2,975 deaths associated with María happened during the three months after the hurricane and was linked to the interruption of health care services. Dialysis facilities and public and private entities offering other health services must have contingency plans in order to have power and be able to operate.
Life-saving activities require the support of an uninterrupted line of food, basic items, and fuel supplies. The business sector has responded by optimizing its inventories and effective communication with port authorities to avoid supplies shortage as it happened two years ago.
We are still facing a great challenge: access to funds for public works and housing repairs. The transformation of the power grid reaches about $ 20.3 billion. The Economic Development and Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico presented to the federal government estimates the cost to protect lives and buildings at $ 139 billion.
The government of Puerto Rico needs to develop a relationship of trust with federal authorities, based on the efficient and transparent use of public resources.
Deficiencies in the infrastructure of dams, bridges, roads, landfills and thousands of homes require the prompt disbursement of approved federal funds to achieve a resilient reconstruction.
All sectors, including local and federal governments, must assume their responsibility in the task of building a Puerto Rico ready to face natural phenomena. That strength saves lives and is essential for the socio-economic growth of our island.