How Do You Solve A Problem Like Hurricane Maria?


How do you solve a problem like Maria? If one were to reflect upon President Trump’s recent response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, an answer would emerge to be obvious: you address the quandary poorly. Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 Hurricane lasting from September 16, 2017 to October 3, 2017 that caused wide-spread damage to areas of the north-eastern and eastern Caribbean. The disaster followed a turbulent month for North America; two weeks earlier, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida, and from August 17 to September 3, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc upon Texas. Whilst the American public largely addressed each disaster with significant support, there was an apparent difference in President Trump’s treatment of victims of Irma and Harvey in comparison to those of Maria.

After the conclusion of Hurricane Harvey, Trump tweeted that ‘We are with you today we are with you tomorrow and we will be with you every single day after to restore recover and rebuild.’ Again, after Hurricane Irma, Trump tweeted an identical message. According to the Washington Post, such words of support were accompanied by action, with Trump donating $1 million of his own money to Hurricane Harvey relief. As Harvey made landfall on August 25, disaster declaration was simultaneously approved, and a federal aid ordered. Trump was in Houston within four days. Similarly, disaster declarations were made on the same day that Irma reached Florida, with Trump visiting four days later.

However, such support is notably absent from Trump’s treatment of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria. Even though a disaster declaration was issued as the hurricane made landfall, there was a distinct delay in the provision of supplies, leading San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz to state that “We [Puerto Ricans] are dying here… [without food and water] we are going to see something close to a genocide.” The following day, Trump tweeted that Cruz and other Puerto Rican authorities had “poor leadership” and expected to have “everything done for them.” Visiting 13 days after Maria’s landfall, Trump addressed Puerto Rican officials: “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack.” On October 12, Trump tweeted that he cannot provide Puerto Rico aid “forever.”

So, why were victims of Harvey and Irma treated as victims while Puerto Ricans have seemingly been tasked with resolving the aftereffects of Maria on their own? This is not to suggest that American aid has been non-existent or unhelpful. Indeed, according to the New York times, over 10,000 federal staff have assisted in distributing resources and restoring damaged infrastructure. However, the limited scope of this aid in comparison to Harvey and Irma, and more specifically, the varied attitudes of President Trump, demonstrate a significant injustice. Texans, Floridians and Puerto Ricans are all American citizens but only some have been afforded the protection and support that they are entitled to.

There are a number of possible reasons as to why Trump has approached hurricane disaster relief so differently. Perhaps he is unconscious of his bias. Alternatively, his actions could conceivably be purposeful. Regardless of his motivations, this issue transcends mere contentions of words. Rather, the problem of Maria has had real and life-threatening impacts which, if neglected, will result in continued devastation. For the sake of stability and peace within both Puerto Rico and the wider American society, there must be appropriate and equal action taken for all disasters. So how should you solve a problem like Hurricane Maria? As you would with any other.

Emily Forrester

Emily is studying a Bachelor of Arts at UNSW, majoring in Development Studies and International Relations.
Emily Forrester