Religious leaders including San Juan’s Catholic Archbishop Roberto González are appealing for aid as 60,000 homes still have temporary or blue-tarp covered roofs that would not survive a Category 1 hurricane and tens of thousands of people across the island still lack access to housing or reliable electricity, a year after Hurricane Maria pummelled the island, September 20. After the hurricanes more than 130,000 people migrated to the US.
“The hurricane anniversaries urge us to renew our commitment to assist the poorest among our people to rebuild their lives with dignity,” said Archbishop González. “We all belong to one human family and need to care for one another.”
A release from Jubilee USA Network—an alliance of US organisations and faith communities working to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable—said that before Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico saw a loss of emergency response and medical personnel due to austerity cuts imposed on the island wrestling with a US$72 billion debt crisis. As hurricane recovery continues, Puerto Rico lumbers through a bankruptcy process designed by Congress.
“Our people feel in a state of uncertainty a year after Hurricane Maria and we are suffering from austerity measures from the debt crisis,” stated Rev Heriberto Martinez, the General Secretary of Puerto Rico’s Bible Society and leader of a coalition to relieve the island’s debt. “The impact of the hurricanes is that our people are leaving the island to look for employment and opportunities to improve the lives of their families.”
The release stated rebuilding and recovery estimates for Puerto Rico range between US$95 billion and $140 billion. The Governor and the island’s congressionally mandated fiscal oversight board are requesting a rebuilding package of US$125 billion. Over the last year, Congress and the federal government approved about US$35 billion of aid for the island.
“Congress and the White House need to come through with the remaining aid so Puerto Rico can rebuild to withstand the next hurricane,” shared Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development group Jubilee USA. LeCompte testified to Congress and Puerto Rico’s oversight board on Puerto Rico’s financial crisis.
He believed, “If a minor hurricane hit the island today, we’d see great suffering that could have been prevented. The clock is ticking.”