It’s now been more than one week since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, and nearly half of Puerto Ricans now lack access to safe drinking water and much of the island is still without power. This is a calamity that means lives are still at risk today, long after the disaster itself. Hospitals there are running off of generators, and fuel to power them is running out.
Puerto Rico needs immediate humanitarian assistance before many more lives are lost thanks to America’s latest climate catastrophe, and reconstruction aid to help them rebuild their infrastructure. The hurricane only made a bad situation much, much worse: Puerto Rico has been reeling from austerity measures for years that were put in place by Wall Street, which has been calling to recoup the debt. One of Donald Trump’s first responses to the mounting humanitarian crisis was to remind people of the “billions of dollars” the territory owes to the bank, “which must be dealt with” – signaling what the priorities will be.
Given the role the banks have played in guiding our decision makers to put profits before people, it’s not surprising. For the past 100 years, Wall Street and the massive corporations they back have guided policy on everything from energy to agriculture, with disastrous effects for our food and water. It has come with toxic pollution, higher prices for consumers, massive wealth inequality and a warming planet.
"The mounting humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico shows that climate chaos is hitting the people of our nation today. And it's not going to be Wall Street that protects us from climate chaos."
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But it’s no longer acceptable. The mounting humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico shows that climate chaos is hitting the people of our nation today. And it’s not going to be Wall Street that protects us from climate chaos. If we are going to face these disasters head on, we have to start standing up for policies that not only move us off of fossil fuels, but also policies that respect the human right to water and prioritize local accountability. That’s why the worst thing we could do is privatize Puerto Rico’s utilities, as some are now eyeing to do—and as others have done in prior disasters, what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.” Instead, we should consider forgiving Puerto Rico’s debt and federally fund its reconstruction. It’s important to demand federal funding for our precious water infrastructure before disasters happen as well; indeed, this funding was cut off to Puerto Rico because of its debt, making a bad situation much worse when the hurricane hit.
With climate chaos, historic disasters are becoming the new normal, and it will be economically distressed communities and communities of color that are hit hardest. As the climate heats, storms, flooding and other weather-related disasters will worsen, and our response requires a focus on helping communities safeguard the things they can’t live without. Only a movement driven by conscience and that stands up for what’s right will ensure a just society where we all have the things we need—safe food, clean water, and clean, renewable energy sources—to survive.
But right now, we must act swiftly to help the large numbers of people in Puerto Rico who lack access to all of those essentials. Contact your member of Congress and tell them to approve a comprehensive reconstruction and humanitarian aid package today.