Destination: Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico had been graciously welcoming guests to the Caribbean island long before the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria reached the area. But on September 6, 2017, the eye of Hurricane Irma, a then-powerful Category 5 storm, skirts north of San Juan. Puerto Rico experiences a glancing blow with 100-mph gusts, but the island avoids the worst of the storm’s effects. Still, there is recovery to be made.
Soon after that on September 13, a low-pressure system, moving west to east, develops in the tropical Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center believes it will strengthen in the days to come, as there’s plenty of ocean heat for the cyclone to suck up. On September 20, Hurricane Maria—a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150-mph winds makes direct landfall on Puerto Rico, blasting the entire island and drenching the territory with feet of rain. On September 25, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló states, “Make no mistake—this is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million US citizens.” The impact of the hurricane is catastrophic. Enter Waves For Water stage left.
Waves For Water is a non-profit organization that works on the frontline of relief, providing aid and clean water solutions to communities in need around the world. Since 2009, Waves For Water has helped millions with access to clean drinking water and creative solutions to support communities during disaster relief. W4W was one of the first organizations with boots on the ground. The following is a field report from Robert McQueen, Waves For Water Field Operations Director, who has been on the front lines of supporting Puerto Rico since the day Maria hit.
There have been many organizations with tens of thousands of volunteers and multiple ongoing efforts supporting 2017 hurricane relief across the US, and beyond, these include government in local communities and independent organizations. The continued efforts and resiliency of communities like Puerto Rico are an inspiration on what is possible. However, there is still much to be done.
From Robert McQueen, W4W Field Operations Director, March 1, 2017:
What is the current situation in Puerto Rico?
It ranges across the island. In some areas, life has returned to a version of normal, primarily in the large city centers and mostly in San Juan. If you move outside of the San Juan area, there are still a lot of communities in need. Lots of small businesses have not been able to reopen or will be closed forever. Central power is still just a dream as the sound of generators own the usually quiet nights. There has been an increase in the demand for donated meals, which is a huge warning flag as the population on the island is still decreasing due to migration to the US. This highlights a significant underlying issue that the island is nowhere near ready to support even the most basic needs. The entire island is still under a boil water advisory due to bacterial contamination.
What people fail to understand is that Maria not only decimated the existing infrastructure on the island but highlighted just how broken both the infrastructure and government systems were prior to the storm. Maria exasperated already damning issues, so the thought that after six months of relief efforts Puerto Rico would be ready is ridiculous. The economic crisis still looms large, especially since there is so much uncertainty surrounding the island. The real work is just getting started.
On how Waves For Water has been able to be effective without the red tape
Our role throughout the response shifted to meet the changing situation on the ground. Initially, we focused on getting our program out to as many people as possible, regardless of restrictions, while encouraging others to do the same. As the situation on the ground progressed, we deliberately focused on trying to connect the right solution to the right need in order to have a greater impact. For example, working with TESLA to bring a remote water pump online and off the grid. We also worked heavily within our local networks to bypass shipping roadblocks and deliver medical supplies—from donors in the states—to hospitals and clinics that needed them the most.
To date, we have implemented over 6,100 filters and reached over 185,000 people. Currently, we are shifting our energy to be a part of the longterm recovery. We are taking on a more formal role and have begun partnering with different organizations and entities to supplement their development efforts. For example, we are working with Departmento De La Comida, an organization working to rebuild local sustainable agriculture on the island. As they rebuild and seed these farms, we will build rain-catchment and water depots to support farmers and their workers. In the end, we believe in sticking to our core focus—clean water programs, and done right we can play a significant role in rebuilding Puerto Rico.
On places he would recommend visiting that are ready for guests
Isabela, Aguadilla & Rincon are more than functional at the moment and need the support of tourism. My team is currently in the area at the moment, and it is as beautiful as it ever was. Some fantastic areas that can take visitors are La Parguera, Culebra, El Yunque, Palomino, Cabo Rojo and Luquillo.
Ways to get involved with Waves For Water and Puerto Rico relief
If you are looking for a nice vacation, you should consider the places I mentioned. Tourism to Puerto Rico is critical. Otherwise, head over to wavesforwater.org to support our initiative or just help spread the word. If you are planning on traveling to PR take a look at our Courier Program, as well, for a DIY way to get involved. In addition to clean water, tarps, roofing and solar lamps are still a huge need. Look for other organizations that are also doing great work (All Hands and Hearts, Departmento De La Comida, Ricky Martin Foundation, Heart 911, etc.) and support them. There is a lot of work to be done down here.
Carla Campos, interim Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company recently said. “One of the most important ways to help Puerto Rico is supporting jobs here. That means coming and having a good time like you always have.”
TUMI Proudly SupportsWaves for Water
In 2017, TUMI raised $471,908 for Waves For Water, implementing 12,125 filters in 12 countries (including Haiti, Sierra Leone, Peru, and Puerto Rico) which impacted 298,500 lives.