Parts of Puerto Rico have been declared a disaster area by the US Department of Agriculture because of a drought which has lasted for several months. Caguas, Gurabo, Juncos, and San Lorenzo are the areas most affected. Ninety days ago, no part of the territory was experiencing drought, and now nearly half is experiencing some level of drought, while 77% is rated “abnormally dry.” This compares with just 8% drought a year ago at this time.
The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) has been encouraging residents to conserve water since spring, and rationing water since mid-May. The rationing has recently been expanded, according to a government announcement, adding 17,500 to the 400,000 households already affected. With record-breaking temperatures and lower than normal rainfall, Puerto Rico does not expect any improvement in the drought conditions in the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, PRASA is one of the agencies which has been involved in the fiscal crisis. The agency has repeatedly pled guilty to charges of mismanagement and to Clean Water Act violations. They have also repeatedly promised to make extensive improvements, but funding has not been available. PRASA’s offices were also raided by federal authorities last November.
PRASA may not be in a strong position to deal with the drought.
A recent NPR report suggested that the drought and rationing might not only affect industries like tourism and restaurants, but also could exacerbate the problem of outmigration which has been increasing for years. “We do not have a problem which was caused today, nor yesterday,” said economist Heidie Calero.
While the drought is causing severe problems, the declaration could be helpful to the farmers in the area. Once a region is identified as a disaster area, farmers there are eligible for emergency loans. The National Guard is also assisting in distributing water. The entire Caribbean region is experiencing drought, but Puerto Rico has access to U.S. federal support.
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