The images are unforgettable: dead livestock in the street, houses stripped down to their foundations, cities darkened by an island-wide power outage, and everywhere, endless devastation. Puerto Rico is an island in the full grip of crisis after being hit by two hurricanes.
While Irma was destructive, Hurricane Maria is the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years, and, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, the fifth most powerful storm ever to hit the United States. Currently 44% of Puerto Rico’s population is without drinkable water, less than 300 of the island’s 1600 cellphone towers have avoided destruction, and just 11 of the 69 hospitals on the island have power. The power outage could continue for four to six months in some parts of the island. The death toll stands around 16, but could rise into the hundreds if power is not restored. None of this is helped by the fact that Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy in May, long before the hurricanes hit.
Human history is strewn with the wreckage of natural disaster, but are we coming to a point when humans are the cause of that disaster?
According to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, by the end of the 21st Century human-induced climate change is likely to increase the intensity of tropical cyclones by an average of 2 to 11 percent, with 10 to 15 percent more rainfall occurring in the area around the storm center. However the Laboratory also states that it cannot say with confidence that human activity is currently affecting Atlantic hurricane processes.
Sea level rise and increasing temperatures are both phenomena long connected to global warming, and both are also connected to hurricanes. Higher sea levels mean more flooding and water-based destruction, and since hurricanes feed off the heat of the ocean, most scientists agree that higher temperatures increases hurricane strength. Still, it is difficult to make conclusions about the relationship between human activities and hurricanes partially due to the inconsistent and largely short-term world-wide hurricane records. Models do suggest, however, that future hurricanes will contain more rainfall.
In addressing a special session of the United Nations while Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on their islands, Caribbean leaders spoke with no ambiguity, saying the hurricanes were connected to climate change and calling for new aid protocol. They argued that climate change has created the need for a more cohesive aid process so nations affected by more powerful storms and disasters do not have to ask for aid over and over again. Possible options include the foundation of an aid fund or an insurance program for affected countries. No specific reform was demanded during the special session, though short term aid was requested.
AIR Worldwide estimates that the insurance claims cost in the Caribbean after Maria ranges from 40 to 85 billion dollars.
Bard College is taking part in raising relief supplies for Puerto Rico. Collection boxes are located at FDR, B&G, Athletics, the TLS office, and Greystone. The items needed are diapers, baby food, batteries, first aid supplies, and feminine hygiene products.
In addition a message sent out by Ann Seaton, the Director the Difference and Media Project, has offered students the opportunity to help create a multimedia awareness and action campaign to help Puerto Rico through the Difference and Media Project.
You can help! Donate some relief products and offer your creative talents to the Different and Media Project to aid those affected by these disasters.
Class of 2017
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Friedman, Lisa. “Islands Seek International Funding for Hurricane Recovery.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2017. Web. 27 Sept. 2017.
“Global Warming and Hurricanes.” GFDL – Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. N.p., [Last Revised] 30 Aug. 2017. Web. 27 Sept. 2017.
“Hurricane Season Fast Facts.” CNN. Cable News Network, 12 May 2017. Web. 27 Sept. 2017.
“Is Puerto Rico Part of the U.S?” Time. Time, 26 Sept. 2017. Web. 27 Sept. 2017.
McQuaid, John. “Hurricanes and Climate Change.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. 27 Sept. 2017.
Meyer, Robinson. “Does Harvey Represent a New Normal for Hurricanes?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 29 Aug. 2017. Web. 27 Sept. 2017.
Resnick, Brian. “Hurricane Maria Hits Puerto Rico as a Category 4: What We Know.” Vox. Vox, 18 Sept. 2017. Web. 27 Sept. 2017.