How many more natural disasters will it take for governments to realize they are compromising their citizens by failure to act?
Ceci Sturman, Crisis Campaigns Intern, Amnesty International USA
By many counts, significant progress has been made in Puerto Rico.
FEMA, relief organizations, and the Puerto Rican government have been working nonstop to repair the damage that Hurricane Maria inflicted on the island. More than 100 days out from the wreckage and:
· 66% of power has been restored to the island,
· 96% of cell sites are up and running, and
· 86% of the population now has access to water.
This progress is definitely good news, considering one month after the hurricane, 80% of the island was still powerless.
Yet, the island remains devastated. Entire communities are destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people still unable to return to their homes.
The government maintains that only 64 people died from causes resulting from Hurricane Maria but several investigations by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism and other news organizations estimate that the actual death toll resulting from Hurricane Maria is over 1,000.
Killing 1,000+ people and causing hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes, Hurricane Maria was and is an egregious example of what can happen when a government fails to act on behalf of its citizens in the face of climate change.
Comparatively, as the Lilac Fire burns uncontained in Southern California, burning over 4,000 acres in less than 12 hours, as hundreds of thousands of citizens of coastal towns in Bangladesh and India continue to flee their homes due to rising sea levels, as entire islands in the South Pacific Ocean are predicted to be uninhabitable in the next 30 years, displacing millions, we must begin to talk about people that are environmentally displaced as victims of government failures to take steps, prevent, mitigate efforts, and to properly plan to deal with, climate change.
And we must hold these governments accountable.
Mother earth and her rage aren’t going anywhere. We, as in the entire international community, need to start talking about climate change in a real way before it causes us all to flee.
How will we do this?
After a similar disaster in 2011, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast, displacing more than a million people, Amnesty International intervened, reporting the massive scale of human rights violations that came as a result of lack of government intervention surrounding the (calls for the) Hurricane. Amnesty will continue to fight for victims’ of natural disasters rights and push governments to do the same.
This devastation in Puerto Rico is an opportunity to take steps towards progress. It is a call for the international community to start convening, planning, and acting, as it is clear that governments are not in a position to move the issue.
Puerto Rico needs, and will continue to need, significant help rebuilding. And as we push for the official death toll to reflect the accurate number of deaths surrounding from the Hurricane, governments must prepare themselves. We need to make sure this does not happen again before it’s too late.
As Alexis Santos, Puerto Rican Investigator states: “The big issue is not the fixation with the number. It’s more about wanting to know the number so we can make an assessment of the impact of the hurricane — and then we can have a discussion about what policies we need to change in order to prevent excess deaths in the event of another natural disaster.”