What Does The Future Hold After Hurricane Maria?

This past month has witnessed a slew of deadly storms and hurricanes that have brought a wave of devastation over millions of people. Most recently, Hurricane Maria swept across the Caribbean, bringing, even more, destruction in an area still recovering from previous storms. In an address to the United Nations, leaders from both the Bahamas and Dominica urged the world to respond to the effects of climate change. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas, Darren Allen Henfield said, “With what we have witnessed just recently with the passage of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and now Maria, I cannot underscore sufficiently the importance the Bahamas attaches to combating climate change, and the preservation and protection of the environment.”

While the mainland U.S. has also experienced the effects of these storms, for those who live on island nations and territories, hurricane evacuation and recovery becomes far more complicated, since the only way to escape devastation would be to leave the island completely. Unfortunately, for Puerto Rico, it seems that most of its population is stuck living in post-apocalyptic conditions. As a result of the storm, Puerto Rico’s entire power grid was wiped out, leaving the U.S. territory without power for potentially months. To make matters worse, nearly all cell phone service has been wiped out as well, leaving residents unable to communicate to family and friends.

Initially, it is estimated that Maria has claimed the lives of 10 people in Puerto Rico and over 30 people in the Caribbean, with both numbers expected to rise. The hurricane essentially struck a direct hit on the island, making its already aging infrastructure crumble. The state of the Guajataca Dam has been an issue of great concern for engineers and officials, as some believe that it could burst at any given moment, which would force approximately 70,000 people to be evacuated. The issue with Puerto Rico and many other islands is that rebuilding destroyed infrastructure is unaffordable. The government of Puerto Rico has essentially no money, and the arrival of another hurricane would put the island back at point zero.

Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez said that “The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years.” Governor Ricardo Rossello also added, “This is, without a doubt, the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico in terms of the damage to infrastructure and in terms of damage to the island as a whole.” According to an article from Slate, it is estimated that the destruction from hurricane Maria could cost up to $30 billion, a price the government surely will not be able to pay on its own.

Many questions remain for the future of both Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean region. If the recent spike in hurricane activity has been a direct result of climate change, then going forward one must ask if it is sustainable for these islands to continue to endure such destruction. While foreign aid has been swift in its response, only so much can be done. The consequences from Maria will forever change the outlook of the island’s future, and the reality is that for some places around the world, the entire state of the economy may be dictated by the weather, which is something that must be addressed. For the sake of the livelihoods of millions of people, let’s hope that this hurricane season is not indicative of future weather patterns.

EJ Patterson