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Puerto Rico: Hurricane Maria

While Hurricane Maria churned over Puerto Rico for hours on September 20, 2017, high winds uprooted trees, toppled power lines, and ripped the roofs off countless buildings. Especially in the mountainous countryside, old growth trees were stripped bare and felled; Puerto Ricans say this exposed many things, including the underlying poverty and vulnerabilities. Photo: Oxfam

In the arduous year since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island has been on a long journey toward recovery. However, while the lights are on and the water is running again in most places, there is a long way to go to reach real restoration and resilience, as well as economic prosperity and equity.

Countless households are still battered, and many families bear bruises that may last for years. And despite the repairs, the water and power infrastructures continue to be fragile and vulnerable to even light blows; service is frequently intermittent. Oxfam is dedicated to working with partners to build back better, with innovative solutions that are more sustainable and resilient.

Oxfam is working with local partners who were on the front lines of the emergency, moving into long-term recovery efforts to rebuild fragile infrastructure and strengthen community resources for the most vulnerable.

How we're responding

Updated September 2018

A dark storm cloud still looms over Puerto Rico: People have deep anxiety about the potential for another climate disaster, and the damage that it could do to the still fragile infrastructure. As one woman put it, “The whole island is living with PTSD.”

In spite of this, however, the people of Puerto Rico continue to have a stunning sense of community and resilience. This spirit animated the work they did tirelessly, to support each other through the long months without power and water. And it may be what sustains them in the face of climate hazards in years to come, as extreme climate events become the new norm.

From Emergency Response to Building Back Better

After the hurricane struck, Oxfam focused on working with various local partners in providing emergency help in the form of water filters, solar lights, and legal aid. Today, our focus has shifted away from immediate humanitarian aid and into the recovery phase.

Access to Clean Water

Water Filters: Oxfam distributed 1,951 household and institutional water filters in 16 municipalities (providing nearly 20,000 people with long-term reliable access to safe water).

Training on Water Treatment and Testing: Oxfam held workshops to train community leaders on development and application of low cost methods for water treatment and rapid water testing.

Repair of Water Systems: The roughly 250 communities that are off the main water system in Puerto Rico are still struggling to repair local aqueducts. Oxfam helped unite a consortium of local organizations to form the Water Alliance, which is restoring water systems in rural and isolated communities, often with solar-powered pumps.

Legal Assistance

Through the Foundation for Access to Justice, Oxfam is helping to provide legal aid to families who are still trying to receive emergency funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). At first, legal aid clinics helped people file claims; now they are helping them appeal rejected claims and prove ownership.

Alternative Energy Solutions

In coordination with the municipalities and local community leaders, Oxfam increased the safety of women and children by providing 22,271 solar lights to households without power.

Oxfam is supporting Casa Pueblo in Adjuntas in a program to bring solar-powered systems to rural grocery stores in three isolated communities, and to households in need. Casa Pueblo has been a leader in advocating for alternative energy as vital to long-term resilience.

Research on Gendered Impact of Humanitarian Disaster

Oxfam led a research project on the gendered impact of lack of water and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) on women in rural Puerto Rico. The resulting report, The Weight of Water on Women, provides a practical set of recommendations for humanitarian response and proposes new lines of work for a gender-sensitive WASH response.

Oxfam also commissioned research for a groundbreaking report, “Women and their voices: Strategies for survival and common strength after hurricanes Irma and María.” The report identifies the gender-specific ways women in Puerto Rico were affected by Hurricanes Irma and María, and the ways they reacted to these catastrophic events.

Advocacy in Washington, DC

Oxfam continues advocating on Capitol Hill and with the Administration, fighting for a just recovery for Puerto Rico. We have hosted numerous delegations in Washington, DC, featuring partners and local leaders from Puerto Rico who made their case directly to Members of Congress, Congressional staffers, and high-level FEMA and HUD officials.

We continue to push for more public input in the development of all recovery plans, particularly in proposed plans for CDBG-DR funds, as all community members should have a voice in how their neighborhoods are being rebuilt and how federal recovery dollars are being spent.

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Stories & updates

Story

The devastation from Hurricane Maria cost many lives

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, the trail of destruction stretched across the island and halted essential services, such as power and water, for months. The aftermath was arduous, and deadly. On August 28, the Puerto Rican government changed the official death count from 64 to 2,975. The story here is just one of thousands, and conveys just a sliver of the loss and pain from the storm.