Puerto Rican authorities in Puerto Rico must diligently begin works to repair and build resilient homes and schools that provide safe shelter in the event of earthquakes or hurricanes.
The government has the funds for these works and has authorized the reactivation of the construction industry, under measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19. Also, the curfew has reduced the traffic flow and keeps students and teachers in their homes.
The Oversight Board approved the use of $46.8 million to demolish and rebuild the homes of families that were affected by the January earthquakes, announced Governor Wanda Vázquez Friday.
The government would also have $49 million available from the $260 million Emergency Fund authorized by the federal agency for earthquake-related expenses. The governor also announced the approval of $625,000 to install generation and solar energy systems in 242 community organizations in 44 municipalities.
Meanwhile, the federal government released $3.2 billion from the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR), of which $88 million would have been used by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. These funds are aimed at planning and developing housing and infrastructure, as well as boosting economic development.
A new six-month hurricane season begins in two weeks. Weather forecasts predict an active season with between 14 and 20 storms, including seven to eleven hurricanes, and four to six will be category three or higher.
Similarly, two weeks ago, another 5.4 earthquake reminded us that Puerto Rico is in a zone prone to earthquakes that can be more frequent and vary in intensity as a result of the January 7 earthquake. That seismic event left dozens of families homeless in several southern municipalities. Some are still sleeping in tents even under curfew.
Seismic activity exposed, on the other hand, that a good part of the public school system is not earthquake-resilient. The government has personnel whose tasks are precisely to ensure the necessary improvements to these structures.
Another task that cannot be postponed is the repair of roads and bridges affected by these events.
While a large part of the population remains in their homes, the government has a unique opportunity to direct the works that will prepare Puerto Rico to safely withstand in the face of these possible, although not always predictable, events such as earthquakes.
Distancing measures should not prevent complying with the comprehensive and participative community approach described by the government in its action plans. Nor should haste alter the due contracting and execution processes.
Quarantine should not be a period of idleness for Puerto Rican authorities when the immense task of building an island resilient to the natural events that are expected to be more frequent remains ahead. Nor should it be forgotten that many of these events will be associated with climate change which, as a backdrop, remains the most significant challenge humanity is facing.
Amid the pandemic emergency, ensuring the safety of families and communities vulnerable to hurricanes and earthquakes, as well as students when they can return to school, is an opportunity to start preventing future disasters.