The Trump administration must take additional steps immediately to address the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and its impact on the health and well-being of Puerto Rican children and families, the international humanitarian organisation Save the Children said on Monday as President Donald Trump prepared to visit Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands on Tuesday.
“Too many of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million people, which include nearly 700,000 children, remain stranded without access to power, shelter, clean water, or fuel nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck the island on September 20,” said Ms. Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children.
“Much more action is needed and it is needed immediately. Children’s lives are at stake,” she said.
Miles outlined four key steps that the Trump administration and Congress should take this week to help address the ongoing crisis.
1. Expand the disaster declaration to include the entire island of Puerto Rico.
The White House’s original disaster declaration covered only a portion of Puerto Rico, but the entire island is devastated and needs the declaration so families in Puerto Rico can access federal funding for immediate relief to meet urgent, life-threatening needs.
2. Send a disaster funding request to Congress immediately.
The White House needs to send a request to Congress for disaster relief for Hurricane Maria immediately and not wait until mid-October as they have stated to the press. After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, President Trump asked Congress for $8 billion in relief within six days. It has been more than a week since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, but we have yet to see any emergency requests to meet these urgent needs.
3. Move as fast as possible to get the resources to Puerto Rico that it so desperately needs.
We ask that the federal government deploy all relevant assets to Puerto Rico and provide stricken communities appropriate access so that Puerto Rican children and families can receive the services they need to survive in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The Trump Administration should work to ensure that additional military and other federal personnel arrive soon to address basic infrastructure needs such as clearing roads, repairing power lines, distributing supplies and other needs.
4. Pay particular attention to the needs of children in preparedness, response and recovery.
Overall, the greatest current gap to meet the needs of children in disasters arises from inadequate funding. While the United States invests billions of dollars to support emergency preparedness and response, very often children’s needs are overlooked. In fact, of every $10 in federal emergency preparedness grants, less than 1 cent has gone toward activities targeting children’s safety. We need to dedicate more funding to emergency preparedness, response and recovery to lessen the gaps that remain and further support children.
Save the Children’s emergency response team is on the ground in Puerto Rico, working with partners to help children and their families recover and eventually rebuild.
“Our immediate priority is to make sure children are safe, that they are with family members or friends and have access to food, water and shelter, including safe, supervised places for children to play,” Miles said. “While helping families meet their basic needs, we are also working with local partners to help get children back into school. Returning to a regular routine of going to school can have a tremendous, positive impact on children as they recover.”
Casey Harrity, the agency’s team leader in Puerto Rico, noted that team members have distributed much-needed materials to displaced children and their families, such as tarps, diapers, baby wipes and soap, as well as materials to create safe spaces for children in emergency shelters.
“There are still so many families and children that need help,” Harrity said.