Puerto Rico’s water crisis
It’s being called a humanitarian crisis. Puerto Ricans are still largely without water and electricity six weeks after the hurricanes hit the islands. As dark as the islands are, literally and figuratively, the bigger darkness comes from the potential catastrophe that may come if Puerto Ricans continue to tap water from unsafe places. Water with contaminants such as dead animals, open sewage, and animal fecal and urine matter. Many are desperate enough to tap and drink water from areas that are potentially contaminated with industrial chemicals. THe EPA has been testing sites to find out if the chemicals are in the water, but some citizens don’t care, they just need the water to live.
While recovery is moving forward, about 20% of the islands are still without proper water facilities which is leading to desperate measures. People are drinking water and contracting stomach pains, and going back for more. One of the biggest water issues is water from places labeled as hazardous waste clean sites by the Puerto Rican Aqueduct and Sewer Authority in 2016. While Puerto Rican government entities are concerned about the safety of the people, they also understand the basic need for water, but trying to find balance is proving to be an issue. According to a professor from Berkley, the levels of the chemicals in the water (PCE and chloroform) would essentially be safe for consumption, but the site where the water is being tapped could be contaminated with other chemicals, and those chemicals, if there are any, are present in unknown amounts, and that is where the biggest danger lies.
Doctors and nurses have reported treating injuries and illnesses due to water contamination sickness. Some towns are still entirely without water, or the water that is flowing is unsafe. Some are exploring alternative options, like water boiling, while officials are stressing the importance of bottled water. However, that is not an option for many since mark ups on bottles, due to scarcity around the islands, make this an option that is out of reach for many. Agencies and volunteer groups are doing their best to bring water, water filtration and purification, and other bacteria cleaners to Puerto Rico, but the effort is arduous and not a long term solution.
The individuals involved know that the best solution is the reparation of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure in order to provide flowing clean and safe water to the people. That could be a long time coming since it’s not just the water system that is destroyed, but also sewage and electricity, both of which are integral in maintaining a clean and functioning city or town. The Puerto Rican government is scrambling to restore water and power to the islands, but with the federal government dragging its feet to rebuild, and the local governments without resources, Puerto Ricans are relying on what they can find, and praying for relief.