Since Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017, the people of Puerto Rico have been working hard to get their lives back to normal. Post-disaster life is never what anyone expects and is almost impossible to anticipate. On this island, it’s an odd dichotomy of bustling business and tourism in the major port cities and quiet acceptance and adaptation in the rural interior.
Walking the streets of San Juan, it is hard to believe a hurricane even hit the island. Signs of normal life are everywhere — groups of tourists toting their beach accessories toward the clear blue ocean, taxis and delivery trucks honking, restaurants overflowing with intoxicating aromas and swelling Latin music.
Yet all it takes is a harrowing two-hour drive into the mountainous countryside to realize that everything is not back to normal. After dodging downed telephone poles and rerouting at every washed-out bridge, one arrives in central Puerto Rico where Water Mission has been working for six months.
Unlike most of the places we work, the communities in Puerto Rico already had water being pumped directly into their homes. Since it is a territory of the United States, residents have access to improved safe water solutions the same as anyone in the 50 states. So, what exactly is the problem and why is Water Mission the one fixing it, you might ask?
Water Mission disaster relief teams have been hard at work installing solutions to the biggest issue rural Puerto Rico is facing: power.
For hundreds of communities in central Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria wrecked their power systems. Once the intricate web of power lines was destroyed, the communities’ access to the island’s power grid disappeared. Without power, these communities had no ability to pump water. Extremely limited gasoline for cars and impassable roads left rural residents to fend for themselves for months.
When listening to the stories of community members who weathered the storm and its aftermath, it’s obvious how integral water is to the operations of everyday life. The people of Puerto Rico weren’t just facing a drinking water shortage. They had absolutely zero access to water.
While drinking water is the most urgent in a disaster situation, Puerto Ricans also faced significant hygiene and sanitation issues. How do you cook, shower, flush the toilet, clean laundry, brush your teeth, or even wash your hands without safe water? And these aren’t people who have spent their entire lives without easily accessible water. They are fellow Americans who are used to the same standard of living as mainland Americans. Imagine losing power and water for months on end with no help in sight.
This is where Water Mission stepped in. Working alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and many other incredible organizations, we were able to respond quickly and efficiently. With more than 16 years of disaster response experience and over 1,100 solar-powered installations worldwide, we were perfectly suited to help Puerto Rico when disaster struck.
Recently, Water Mission engineers from around the world gathered in Puerto Rico for a week-long training seminar with our corporate partners Grundfos (our solar pump and inverter supplier) and Blue Planet Energy (our large capacity battery supplier).
Solar-powered pumping systems are the sustainable future for providing water, but perfecting the process can be complicated. Our engineers visited three projects and spent two days learning best practices for using Grundfos and Blue Planet Energy’s products in our solutions to provide grid-independent, reliable power to rural communities.
Our team is working to have 20 community solar-powered micro-grids implemented in Puerto Rico by the end of 2018 to ensure the delivery of safe water. For a country that relies 70 percent on imported oil and fuel, the implementation of micro-grids is the first step in becoming independent. Having seen our process, other like-minded organizations are partnering with us to help implement these solutions throughout the interior of Puerto Rico.
With more than 200 communities in need, we cannot do this on our own and are thankful to be able to share our solution with other organizations who can help speed up the implementation process and get safe water restored to more communities quickly.
Our goal is to establish global standards for supplying sustainably powered safe water solutions. Fully utilizing our partners’ products enables us to provide the best solution in every new project we undertake and to better support existing projects in the 55 countries we serve around the world.
For the people of Puerto Rico, it means that next time a storm hits, they won’t have to wait for more than six months to have power restored. With the right solutions in place, communities will be able to independently provide themselves with safe water.
To learn more about our disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico, click here.