Puerto Ricans Still Desperate for Water Weeks after Hurricane Maria

Half of the island’s residents have no access to clean drinking water.

Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos/PRNG-PAO)

The Rundown

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, islanders are still in dire need of water and other amenities such as food, fuel, and medicine. The arrival of aid to the island has been sluggish, and its delivery is being obstructed by widespread damages to infrastructure alongside downed electricity and cell service. Although the island has seen some areas of improvement—over 70 percent of supermarkets and gas stations are now operational—conditions remain grave following the worst hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 90 years.

“Well, at least the water arrived — that’s a first. That’s for today. I guess tomorrow we have to come back. The people here were waiting, and it was not coming. We were so desperate.” –Aida Nieves, a resident of Cánovanas, Puerto Rico, in reference to the arrival of aid after two weeks of waiting. Nieves received two meals and a 24-pack of bottled water to sustain her household of eight people indefinitely. Other residents of the island, especially those living in isolated inland areas, are still waiting for basic amenities.

By The Numbers

34 The latest Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico, according to a Tuesday update by Governor Ricardo Roselló. Nineteen deaths were due to drowning, mudslides or falling objects; the rest of the deaths were caused indirectly by heart attack, suicide, or power outages that cut off oxygen or other life-saving assistance at hospitals. The Governor warned that the death toll may continue to rise.

53 percent Proportion of Puerto Ricans who do not have access to clean drinking water as of Tuesday. Many residents have resorted to fetching water from streams and rivers to meet their daily needs. In San Juan, a bottle of water reportedly costs $6.

91 percent Proportion of Puerto Rican homes and businesses that remain without power as of Wednesday. Governor Roselló expects that 75 percent will still be without electricity a month from now.

88 percent Proportion of islanders who do not have cell service as of Wednesday. A Department of Defense press release on hurricane relief efforts reported that “communications remain a challenge.” AT&T mobile cell towers are being delivered to Puerto Rico in an effort to regain connectivity.

51 Number of Puerto Rico’s hospitals that are relying on generator power, compared to 14 hospitals with functioning electricity. A floating U.S. Navy hospital ship has arrived in San Juan to aid storm victims.

Science, Studies, And Reports

The U.S. Department of Defense is publishing daily reports on disaster relief efforts on the island. The DoD’s Wednesday update emphasized the military’s efforts to clear roads and rebuild bridges in order to distribute aid to all Puerto Rico residents. More than 10,000 DoD personnel are on the ground and eighty military aircraft are flying supplies around the island.

On The Radar

Over half of Puerto Ricans are without drinking water, and the potential for waterborne diseases is on the rise. Unfortunately, this is not the first issue Puerto Rico has had with its water supply. Even before Hurricane Maria, the island had the highest rate of drinking water violations of any state or territory. In 2015, over 60 percent of islanders got their water from sources that violated federal health standards. Crumbling infrastructure, pollution, and underinvestment are largely to blame. Now that Hurricane Maria has dealt another blow to Puerto Rico’s fragile water supply, the Puerto Rican government must commit to rebuilding water infrastructure in a sustainable way, or else water issues will continue to plague the island for decades to come.

Resources And Further Reading

After Hurricane Maria, 95 percent of Puerto Rico still without power (ABC News)
Aid Is Getting to Puerto Rico. Distributing It Remains a Challenge. (The New York Times)
Higher Puerto Rico Death Toll Reflects Survey Across Island (The New York Times)
Hurricane Maria worsens Puerto Rico’s water woes (The Hill)
Trump praises response to Puerto Rico, says crisis straining budget (Reuters)
With little food, water or power, Puerto Rico residents say ‘no one has come’ to help (ABC News)
With long lines for food, water and fuel, Puerto Ricans help each other (USA Today)
DoD Hurricane Relief (Defense.gov)