Pinal-Alfaro: The US needs to start caring about Puerto Rico

More than five weeks after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, conditions on the island have improved marginally. As of Oct. 25, 2017, the official death toll stands at 51, though the number of casualties is believed to be much higher due to unaccounted deaths that have yet to be processed by the government. As of Oct. 19, 2017, 80 percent of the island remains in darkness as the power grid has yet to be restored.

Puerto Rico has seen minimal improvements from a natural disaster that happened over a month ago. So why has the United States not been as urgent to aid the country as it was when Hurricane Harvey struck Texas? After Hurricane Harvey, 5,300 workers from around the area rushed to restore the electricity. This process was complete within two weeks. In contrast, Puerto Rico has relied mainly on the 900 members of local crews to restore electricity to a larger area, and large parts of the island remain without electricity . The United States’ response to this disaster has prompted criticism from U.N. experts, and frankly this criticism is well deserved.

The United States has not handled the relief efforts for this natural disaster as it has handled other recent hurricanes, and this is unacceptable. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico merits the same amount of support from our federal government as do the the states on the mainland. The people of Puerto Rico deserve the best from their government, and unfortunately they have not been receiving the necessary aid.

The United States must move with purpose to help expedite the relief effort in Puerto Rico. With millions of people affected with a lack of electricity, clean drinking water and food these actions are long overdue.

There is a dire need for more workers on the ground to aid the local Puerto Rican crews in restoring the electrical grid. With the Army Corps of Engineers lagging in their efforts to restore power to the country, a mutual fund agreement between Puerto Rico and the states of New York and Florida has emerged to send more utility crews to the island, which will help restore electricity more efficiently.

The restoration of electricity in Puerto Rico will also facilitate the access to clean drinking water and food. As of Oct. 25, almost a quarter of households in Puerto Rico did not have access to clean drinking water. Moreover, cases of waterborne illness such as leptospirosis have increased dramatically since the hurricane struck the island.

The United States must be held responsible for ensuring that the Puerto Rican people have access to safe sources of water, such as bottled water, while the electricity is being repaired on the island. In conjunction, the United States must also increase its efforts to provide Puerto Rico with adequate amounts of food while the country’s agriculture sector rebuilds.

The people of Puerto Rico are suffering, and it is time for the United States to become serious about the relief effort. An increase in utility crews, material for rebuilding power lines, clean bottled water and food are needed immediately to help rebuild the shattered country. It is time for the U.S. to start caring about Puerto Rico.

If you yourself would wish to donate to the relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, please consider donating to your charity of choice. I suggest donating to One America Appeal because it has committed to giving 100% of its donations relief funds specific to eath natural disaster, but any donation will help.

Yoshmar Pinal-Alfaro is a first-year biomedical engineering student. When not procrastinating on his SAGES homework, he can be found running in very short shorts.