Residents and governments of the Leeward Islands are bracing themselves for another major hurricane. According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Maria has sustained winds of 130 miles per hour.
Many of the islands in Maria’s path were hit last week by Hurricane Irma. Already a category 4 hurricane and with the potential to become a category 5, Maria will cause further destruction and will disrupt the recovery efforts currently underway in places like the US Virgin Islands, Barbuda, and Saint Martin.
Hurricane Maria will be a test for Puerto Rico, which avoided a direct hit from Irma but remains very vulnerable.
Dangers Facing Puerto Rico
On Monday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló was in the city of Ponce on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. Ponce is the second largest city in Puerto Rico with a population of nearly 200,000.
Current forecasts place Puerto Rico directly in the path of Hurricane Maria. The Commonwealth avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, but that storm laid bare the potential problems that the island will face after Maria.
After the storm, it became clear that Puerto Rico’s electricity infrastructure was especially vulnerable. The New York Times reported on the damage caused by an indirect hit from Irma, which left 70 of the island without power when it hit on Wednesday. According to local officials, “As of Saturday evening, about 40 percent of the island did not have power and 13 percent of households were without water.”
Damage from Hurricane Maria will exacerbate the island’s economic issues. Puerto Rico is still in the grips of a decade old economic crisis. Puerto Rico also faces a major debt crisis. In June 2016, President Obama signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA, which created an oversight board to restructure the territory’s debt and approve its annual budget.
Last spring, Joseph Stiglitz spoke at the Center for a New Economy’s 2017 Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In his speech, the Nobel Prize-winning economist was critical of current federal policy towards Puerto Rico, which has focused on austerity and debt reduction.
As one thinks about this issue [the debt crisis], the first priority needs to be a recovery of the growth of the island. Its really that simply. If you could recover growth, then, of course, its possible to repay.
Hurricane Maria is expected to hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday. The recovery effort from this potentially severe hurricane may be an opportunity for massive investment in Puerto Rico. A significant economic stimulus to rebuild and upgrade infrastructure in the territory could help offset the negative economic effects of Maria and potentially bring economic growth back to Puerto Rico.