Hurricane Maria Reflection

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Two years ago, Puerto Rico was plagued with debilitating Hurricane Maria. The hurricane tormented Puerto Rico for days, causing severe physical and emotional damage to the country. The hurricane destroyed homes and schools, led to the spread of illness and disease through contaminated water and has scarred those who experienced it for life. It has led to the creation of a new way of life for many Puerto Ricans. It has also exposed a great deal of injustices; a lot has been learned about natural disasters. Unfortunately during this time I, like many others, was greatly removed from this tragedy. At the time, I was living in the United Kingdom and the only information that reached me regarding the hurricane was Donald Trump’s insensitive reaction to the natural disaster.

Image of destruction of homes post Hurricane Maria.

There have been many lessons to learn from Hurricane Maria. One of the most important, that so many government groups and officials have not learned, is that superpower nations have an obligation to help nations in need after these natural disasters. Of course, many would question why that would be the most important lesson to learn. This is precisely because superpower nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom have not only stagnated the growth of many nations due to colonialism/imperialism, but they have also been the largest contributors to climate change. Many find themselves asking “why is that relevant to a hurricane?”. Well, without delving too deep into the science of climate change, we can establish that climate change impacts sensitive areas first. Those sensitive areas include islands, mountains, etc.

Two years after Hurricane Maria and there is still so much work to be done to help those recovering from the aftermath of the hurricane. In the Carribean, hurricanes and other natural disasters often have particularly devastating effects and the damages are frequently amplified. This is clearly exemplified in Puerto Rico post-hurricane. It’s a shame that two years after the hurricane, Puerto Ricans have not been able to recover even 50% of the way. 

Image of a destroyed Puerto Rican flag.

When thinking about Hurricane Maria, many people don’t see the bigger picture. There is far more to consider than simply rebuilding infrastructure and distributing funds to individuals, though that is also not being done. One thing that is a part of the bigger picture when considering how countries like Puerto Rico can recover from a natural disaster like Hurricane Maria is disaster risk. This is a function of a place’s physical hazard exposure, which is how directly it is threatened by disaster; it also is a countries social vulnerability and how resilient the nation is.

Another important consideration and factor to reflect on during this two year anniversary is geography and gender; the intersection of the two actually plays an important role in how best to assist countries post natural disaster. What exactly does this intersection mean though? To start, poorer residents tend to live in more disaster prone areas. This is due to the housing of those disaster prone areas being far cheaper. The majority of these poor residents spend their income mostly on their livelihood, meaning food, water, shelter, etc. This limits their ability to be prepared for a disaster to come and disrupt their lives. Now, certainly as the reader you’re wondering what all of this has to do with gender. Well, women are disproportionately exposed to illness post-disaster when living in these disaster prone areas. This is because water sources tend to become contaminated when disaster strikes; due to gender roles, women have to do things such as tend to the house, harvest, and other domestic responsibilities. These responsibilities that women have lead to their exposure to illnesses such as cholera and yellow fever. On this anniversary of Hurricane Maria, and with consideration of the hurricane that just ravished the Bahamas, it is important to consider ways to reduce women’s exposure to these illnesses and to actually consider the different ways that women are impacted post natural disaster.

Image of destruction post Hurricane Maria.

While on the subject of gender and gender roles, a final thing I regarding gender and the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is femicide. An interesting thing to note about Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria is that there was a huge issue regarding femicide. Once Hurricane Maria came, one can only assume that the rates either increased or it became easier to get away with the act of femicide. This is heart wrenching, but as we reflect on Hurricane Maria, it is necessary to consider those who lost their lives due to the storm and those who lost their lives because of the aftermath of the storm. It’d be interesting to have a study done to find out how the rate of femicide has been skewed after Hurricane Maria.

Finally, the most important thing to note as we reflect for the two year anniversary of Hurricane Maria is that superpower and first world nations have a responsibility to the nations that they have debilitated. More specifically, the United States has a responsibility to help rebuild the infrastructure, economic climate and social climate in Puerto Rico. As the United States is the reason that far more countries cannot directly help Puerto Rico, they need to step in and do their job. It’s easy to understand the colonialism, imperialism and racism that has led to the United States being able to turn away from issues in Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria. However, it’s time that people and nations take a more humanitarian look on things and begin to help the people who they have exploited.