Water Rationing In Puerto Rico Hits The Poor, Leaves Resorts Untouched
Fernandez’ dog Martes paces the cracked, dry land on his farm.
CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
by Alice Ollstein Aug 10, 2015 2:19pm~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
GUAYANILLA, PUERTO RICO — Pacing across the cracked earth of his family’s land as hot, dry winds shook the surrounding trees, 33-year-old Roberto Fernandez described how two years of severe drought has devastated the island.
“Last year, the pastures weren’t getting rain and weren’t able to regrow, and my livestock started getting hungry and sick,” he said. “When the animals don’t have enough food, it takes a toll on their defense system, and the tics took hold and started spreading disease. There were carcasses of adult cows everywhere. That’s when I understood the pretty shocking reality of the drought.”
Other farmers who bring produce to the organic market Fernandez set up in the nearby city of Ponce are also suffering. “Production has dwindled drastically,” he said. “We’re really deep into the problem now.”
Since the usual tropical rains fizzled out in February, the USDA has declared more than a quarter of Puerto Rico a disaster area. In July, usually one of the wettest months, the island got just 4 centimeters of rain. Now, 2.8 million residents live in a part of the country suffering either an “extreme” or “severe” drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.
As the commonwealth’s reservoirs drop to their lowest levels in decades, the government has declared a state of emergency, and implemented strict rationing. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans now have had tap water only every third day, and that tightened this past weekend, giving families water only two days a week.
“It’s been water for one day, then no water for two days,” explained Fernandez. “In the one day you have water, you fill your buckets.”
Government officials are telling residents that now is “not the time” to wash their cars, fill private swimming pools, or hose down their sidewalks and patios. Luis F. Cruz Batista, Director of Puerto Rico’s Office of Management and Budget, told local press: “The rationing affects the rich, the middle class and the poor; it affects children, adults and seniors.”
But the rationing has not hit everyone equally. As poor islanders fill up buckets and bathtubs on the few days they have water, the pools, fountains, and showers of the coastline’s hotels and resorts remain untouched.
“The most affected residents have been those with the fewest resources,” San Juan academic and activist Jose Rivera told ThinkProgress. “But in the hotels and the majority of condominiums, like the one I live in, the rationing either isn’t being done at all, or they’re only partially implementing it. So far, the population has remained calm, but I expect this inequality of sacrifices to eventually provoke protests.”
Rivera added that when public schools reconvene this month, the water rationing will disrupt class schedules and the school breakfast and lunch programs. This will especially harm more than half of Puerto Rican children living in poverty.
For Fernandez, the water rationing policy is a symbol of deeper problem. “I see it as such as parallel of government policy in general,” he said. “The government puts more value into those from abroad than they are concerned about the local situation and the well-being of the public.”
This is the endemic problem we face with securing water justice and climate justice. There is a fundamental mental dysfunction that occurs in humans who have more money than others. It leads them to believe that because they carry more green paper or plastic in their pocket that they are therefore more entitled to that which is a PUBLIC COMMON and a right for all species. As if water were a commodity only available to those who can afford to pay for it. This mental and moral dysfunction combined with the greed of governments and businesses leads to injustice and death.
We see it every day in this world- the poor suffering to secure the selfish pursuits of those who can see only material realities because they have lost all ability to think beyond their own comforts. Water is not something that can be relegated only to the pleasure and use of those who can afford it. It is a pubic trust, a resource not created by man. However, I see this pattern leading us to the dystopian world we have only read about in science fiction novels.
A world where lush resorts overflowing with water and all Earthly comforts are only for the rich overseeing a world of drought, hunger and the poor dying of thirst in the streets- punished for being born that way. A truly harsh world predicated on a false belief that has managed to see the human race sacrifice all of its good and honor...and it frightens me.
Now granted, it can be said that not all people in the world who are rich are this way. However, will we see these resorts and hotels in Puerto Rico inviting the poor in to stay? Do we see that now in California? The same is happening there as residents of rich areas like Rancho Santa Fe think they are entitled to be able to have green lawns even as people thirst and farmers dig deeper than ever to find water.
It begs the question... Just where will we be by 2095 when 2/3 of this world is in water crisis? How will we ever come together to bring climate and water justice to those who need it when the very politicians and organizations that claim to want that also go arm and arm with the rich preventing it? How will we ever escape the trappings of this material world that have now corroded our hearts and minds? When we as a species judge the worth of a life by the amount of paper they own we know for sure we have sunk to the deepest depths.
Puerto Rico Drought
This is our world on climate change. We and other species won't be able to adapt to it unless we change.
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