Over the last month hurricanes have torn through America’s southern coast, inflicting massive amounts of damage to Texas, Florida, and other states in the region. Of course, the U.S. mainland is far from the only place that’s been harmed by these major weather emergencies. Along with devastating Caribbean islands like Barbados and Barbuda, recent tropical storms have also hammered the American territory of Puerto Rico. First it had to endure Hurricane Irma, which only clipped the island’s northern portion but still left 1 million people without power. Then a couple weeks later Hurricane Maria landed directly over Puerto Rico and made the situation much, much worse.
Now the island’s more than 3.4 million American citizens have no electricity at all, save for a few generators that are keeping the lights on at hospitals and other important buildings. Officials estimate that 90 percent of the island’s population could be without power for months. Measuring the overall impact of such a life-changing loss is impossible, but the situation can become slightly clearer for outsiders when looked at through the lens of economics. So far analysts say that Hurricane Maria will cost Puerto Rico about $30 billion, which accounts for a third of the island’s GDP. Still, experts came up with this amount under the assumption that power would return to Puerto Rico in about three months. “If it takes six months to get the grid back online, you’re getting more economic impact than physical impact,” said disaster research analyst Chuck Watson.
What’s more, Puerto Rico was already on the brink of economic disaster before any hurricanes landed on its shores. The island has been in a recession for nearly a decade, causing GDP to shrink annually and increasing the poverty rate to 40 percent. The government of Puerto Rico even filed for bankruptcy last year after the weight of its $72 billion debt became too much to bear. For the moment, though, the island is less concerned with creditors and more focused on providing basics like safe drinking water for its suffering populace. Click here for a list of organizations that are accepting donations for relief efforts in Puerto Rico and other islands harmed by Hurricane Maria.
- Do you think Puerto Rico’s creditors should forgive some of the island’s debts after Hurricane Maria caused such massive damage?
- How do disasters like Hurricane Maria affect an entire economy?
Sources: Julia Horowitz, “Hurricane Maria Is a Nightmare for Puerto Rico’s Economy,” CNN, September 25, 2017; Dave Graham, Robin Respaut and Hilary Russ, “Hurricane Maria Deals Puerto Rico’s Fragile Economy a New Blow,” Business Insider, September 24, 2017; Brian Resnick and Eliza Barclay, “What Every American Needs to Know About Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Disaster,” Vox, September 27, 2017.