Column: Why are we ignoring Puerto Rico?

If the poor relief efforts in Puerto Rico were to happen on the mainland after a disaster, Americans would cry outrage — and yet people already seem to be forgetting about our fellow citizens.
San Juan residents walk in water-filled streets on Sept. 22, 2017, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Photo by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos and courtesy of the US Department of State

Madi Baughman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinions columnist who writes about political and civil rights issues for The Maneater.

It’s been roughly a month since Hurricane Maria made landfall and devastated Puerto Rico, but people have pretty much already stopped talking about it. Unless you search the news for articles about the topic, the damage done by the hurricane is barely making popular headlines. I have noticed that people around me don’t talk about it, either, unless I bring it up. It’s astonishing to me how so many people can be suffering from an event that happened not long ago at all, and yet everyone has seemed to forget about it so fast.

At the time I am writing this column, power is still out in three-quarters of the island, and about one-third lacks cell phone service. Only 98 of the island’s 1,113 public schools have been able to reopen and 150 of the rest have been deemed too badly damaged to reopen at all. School days have been slashed in half, only the most crucial core elements for each grade level will be covered and the school year may have to be extended, according to the New York Times. Even worse, one in four Puerto Ricans still lack access to clean water, according to Vox. If relief efforts were to be forgotten on the mainland after a disaster, Americans would cry outrage — and yet, because Puerto Rico is a territory, it seems to be hard to find people who care enough to do anything about it.

To make this whole situation even more complicated, the aid that Puerto Rico would be receiving from the U.S. is still up in the air due to Environmental Protection Agency staff and budget cuts, according to Vox. While the EPA isn’t usually what we think about in terms of first responders, they are supposed to provide help in large-scale national emergencies. Many Puerto Ricans live close to toxic waste as well, due to the major landfill problem the island faced even before Maria, and yet EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is siding with industry, and some of his deputies want to repeal the agency’s rules on hazardous chemicals. With all of this going on, it’s hard to be able to count on the government to help out Puerto Rico, so citizens must play a bigger part now more than ever.

So unless we really don’t care about the welfare of our citizens, people directly affected by our decisions, we have to step up to the plate and be there for the people of Puerto Rico. There are plenty of reputable organizations for people to donate to, such as Fondos Unidos de Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund, ConPRmetidos and many more. Even if you can’t donate, don’t let the topic go. Make other people pay attention — make our government pay attention. Americans cannot claim the title of the greatest country in the world when we refuse to acknowledge the struggles of our own people.

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