After category 5 Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the government failed to provide adequate relief to the approximately 3.4 million U.S. citizens who live here, sparking a massive humanitarian crisis. People struggled with unsafe drinking water; lack of food, fuel, energy, and communications; compromised housing and homelessness; a dearth of medical and mental health care; and the erosion of public services.
Our post-hurricane precarity emerges from the colonial relationship between the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States, and the ongoing economic depression that has crippled the island and undermined the security of the population.
We suggest that spaces at risk for climate-driven disaster pursue the model of the citizen scientist and citizen responder—the everyday, average person who is prepared and equipped to care for themselves and their community in a time of crisis—working in collaboration with functioning government initiatives.
Our Point of View
Each of the students, faculty, and community partners involved in the “Mi María” project survived category 5 Hurricane María, which brought new disasters born of insufficient government relief efforts. This mass listening project—designed to empower students and community by counteracting the silencing of Puerto Ricans—demonstrates the value of stories in seeking climate justice while connecting classrooms to communities. Working with community partners allowed us to collect and compare grassroots responses to disaster to record innovative and replicable responses.
—University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez
Fundación Surfrider Rincón is the Puerto Rican chapter of a global nonprofit that protects beaches, oceans, and waves. Their Blue Water Task Force educates, advocates for, and monitors ocean health. In the aftermath of Hurricane María, their attention turned to freshwater sources that potentially sickened those who drank from them. Under post-disaster conditions, the quality of already vulnerable coastal areas and freshwater sources is unreliable. The UPRM student collaboration with Surfrider helps us understand how to develop and mobilize citizen scientists in the wake of disaster.
—Fundación Surfrider Rincón
—Fundación de Culebra