In fact, while hurricanes are expected to become more severe in the Caribbean, they are also predicted to become less frequent. “When we don’t experience a hazard for a while we think ‘oh why worry’ and our preparation and mitigation measures tend to lapse, exactly as we’ve seen in this pandemic.”
Puerto Rico has already seen environmental events mushroom into profound and unnecessary crises. The death toll from Maria is thought to sit somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 lives, way beyond the Trump administration’s initial calculation of 64. The vast majority were not killed by the storm but in the days and weeks after, as the electric grid collapsed and the water supply was contaminated. 97% of Puerto Rico continues to be served by a water system that violates testing standards, while in 2019, 16m bottles of untouched water from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were found lying in farmland in Dorado, just west of San Juan.
Nearly three years on, of the 130,000 displaced, tens of thousands still have not returned, with businesses struggling to pick up where they left off. “If you were to come and see and drive around, you would think, yeah it’s recovered, it looks ok. But it’s not ok,” says Gonzalez Rodriguez. “Today, we still do not have life as normal. There are still too many families without homes, there are still far too many children who have still not gone back to school.”
“You can still drive up to the mountains and see houses with blue tarps that never received help because the local and federal governments put up a bunch of excuses,” says Odeh, who coordinates the Caribbean region for environmental organisation 350.org, and is currently helping with reforestation efforts after the hurricane.