More than 20% of Puerto Rico is now in an extreme drought. 45% is in a severe one. The month of July was the driest month in Puerto Rico since it became a U.S. territory in 1898, and water rationing means that many residents have running water only one day in three. It will soon be one day in four.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack has declared 20 of the 78 municipalities disaster zones, 2.8 million of the Island’s 3.5 million people are being affected, and water rates continue to be punishingly high.
The agricultural sector is being hit hard, along with fishing and tourism, and more businesses will be affected as the drought continues.
This is the last thing Puerto Rico, now in default on some debt, needed. The financial crisis is already forcing many to move to the States.
What’s the solution? The water authority in Puerto Rico is sending trucks around with drinking water, and they’re planning to seed clouds in hopes of making rain.
Resident Commissioner Pierluisi called for help from the federal government in June. Declaring much of Puerto Rico a disaster zone made residents eligible for federal loans, but little more has been done.
Would it be different if Puerto Rico were a state?
California has been suffering from a drought as well. They have received emergency loans, just as Puerto Rico has. They’ve also been allocated $100 million in livestock disaster funds, $3 million in emergency water grants, $60 million for food banks, and $5 million in emergency watershed improvement funds.
You can read the details on drought efforts at a White House webpage with a map showing the areas of the United states which are experiencing drought. The map does not include Puerto Rico.
As long as Puerto Rico is a territory rather than a State, the federal government can legally treat Puerto Rico differently from the States. It is time for a change.