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photo by juan zayas Nunez in article by Daniel Edgardo Adorno-Cruz

Aftershocks…in every sense of the word

When the government fails to provide for its people, then the people provide for themselves. After the earthquake in Puerto Rico roads to the south were bumper to bumper traffic with ordinary people and professionals bringing supplies and services to those in need. Disasters often bring out the best in people.

On February 1, 2020 Sarah Ratliff and I went to Sabana Grande to deliver supplies to a distribution center for those affected by the  earthquakes. Sarah’s blog describes our visit providing pictures and the historical background. Please read it.

We got to Sabana Grande and the coliseum was full of supplies and no one was there. It was Saturday around noon and the staff  said that people were in their tents or perhaps eating next door.

The volunteer staff told us that the supplies were available to everyone, both those staying in the “tent city” in back and those from the outside. He said that although there may be a couple of “cacheteros” (moochers), most people were really in need. Everything was there from water and food to a dog kennel and wheelchair. School supplies, diapers, clothes were available for the taking. Maybe Saturday was for relaxing because  Monday was the time to attack the many tasks at hand. But where do you start and whose job is it to help?

In a country riddled with corruption after Hurricane Maria, it seems a daunting task to deal with the aftermath of this crisis. Preparedness and disaster relief do not seem high on the priority list when other services are in jeopardy due to the financial crisis on the island.

Disaster relief calls for quick action. Bureaucratic paperwork can be overwhelming and common bidding practices are sometimes overlooked in order to expedite things. Locals are often ignored while bringing in outside experts. It’s not an easy situation for any country.

volunteer registers woman for shelter in Guanica, photo by Ricardo Arduengo AFT Getty Images

Haiti, Indonesia and New Zealand

Money is not always an issue in disaster recovery as shown after Haiti’s earthquake in 2010. Despite billions of dollars, Haiti still hasn’t recovered.

After the 2004 tsunami, the director of the Indonesian government’s reconstruction agency, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto said that coordination among hundreds of aid groups is “the challenge of challenges.”   “Corruption is endemic. We cannot let down our guard for a moment.” 

New Zealand is a country with daily earthquakes and seems to deal with planning for them…at least I found lots of studies on the subject. While earthquakes cannot be predicted like tsunamis and tornadoes, lessons can be learned from the past. An Earthquake Recovery Authority was established, meant to be a temporary agency for leading and coordinating  recovery.



Army reserve setting up cots in Guanica 1/14/2020 photo by Carlos Giusti AP

As of February 11, 2020 Melissa Correa Vazquez of the Vocero newspaper reported that 889 people were in 13 camps (down from 1021 in 14 camps the week before) run by the Housing Authority (Vivienda). There may be more people living outside on their own. FEMA also approved money for transitional housing. Puerto Rico and FEMA will establish the criteria of eligibility, something that probably should be established before the situation arises.

Public school in Guanica, photo Eric Rojasoto by Eric

Puerto Rico shows that people can help each other with certain things….clothes, food, etc. The community comes together in a crisis. Non profits and churches step up and although not often organized within the recovery movement, they try to do their part.  Governments need to provide things individuals can’t do by themselves. The infrastructure is paramount; roads must be maintained; schools must be safe; electricity must work. The same way that public heath isn’t a priority until there’s a health crisis; preparedness doesn’t seem a priority until there’s an earthquake or a hurricane. Have we learned anything from these experiences? I hope so….because it doesn’t seem like disasters are over yet.

The collapsed wall of the landmark lighthouse in Guanica, Puerto Rico on Jan. 6, 2020, RICARDO ARDUENGO, AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

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