Power, Politics, and the Distribution of Aid in Puerto Rico: Understanding Emergency Response in the Wake of Hurricane Maria

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Jenniffer SANTOS-HERNANDEZ, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras
Ashley MÉNDEZ-HEAVILIN, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras
On September 20, 2017, Puerto Rico was directly impacted and devastated by hurricane Maria; the 10th strongest hurricane ever recorded. As it is the case of other Small Island Developing States, Puerto Rico has most of its infrastructure and a significant portion of its population located in coastal areas, is highly susceptible to disasters and climate change, has a limited resource base, and imports over 75% of the products consumed. In addition, for more than a century Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States and has undergone a paradoxical process of assisted development. Although great advancements have been achieved, the island is confronting its longest and most profound economic crisis with over $74 billion in public debt, and a resulting unprecedented wave of emigration. The effects of the profound economic crisis translate into, a deteriorated public infrastructure, reduced and impoverished basic services, and increasing fissures in the local social fabric. Therefore, Puerto Rico was in a socially produced condition of vulnerability when the hurricane occurred and the catastrophic results of the event are often not surprising to residents and authorities. This paper presents the findings of quick response research in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria that sought to explore and contextualize the immediate response of authorities at all levels and citizens to meet basic and emerging needs. Developing a framework to understand the social, political, economic, and cultural forces that mediate disaster response decisions is vital to elicit the effective coordination of emergency response, the dissemination of culturally informed messages, and the distribution of aid and relief in disaster situations.