Puerto Rico

map of Puerto Rico

IsraAID is working to provide access to safe water and mental health and psychosocial support to communities recovering from Hurricane María.

On September 19th, 2017, Hurricane María struck Puerto Rico. It was the most powerful storm to hit the US territory in nearly a century. Winds of over 170 mph and torrential rain felled trees, smashed buildings, pulled roofs from homes, and critically damaged the electricity grid. María is believed to have caused approximately $90 billion in damage, wiping out 230,000 homes. In the aftermath of the hurricane, 95% of the island lost electricity, 80% of the island’s agriculture was destroyed, including 18 million coffee trees, and many people didn’t have access to safe drinking water. One year after the natural disaster, many people are still without electricity and access to clean running water is still sporadic and limited to the main centers.


Statistics

Population of Puerto Rico
3.337 million
Estimated damages caused by Hurricane María
$90 billion
Population without electricity immediately after Hurricane María
95%
Water systems outside the national water provider
3%
Estimated deaths caused by Hurricane María
2,975
Increase in suicide rate after Hurricane María
29%
Poverty Rate
43.5%
Unemployment in Puerto Rico
10.3%

IsraAID and Puerto Rico

Seven days after Hurricane María struck the island, IsraAID arrived to Puerto Rico with a Spanish-speaking team of medical and psychosocial support professionals and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) experts. The team first conducted a rapid assessment of the island’s key needs, by visiting numerous shelters, and meeting with local authorities, civil society organizations, the local Jewish community, and the local psychologist association. Following the assessment, IsraAID prioritized and implemented the following emergency relief programs: (1) distribution of water filters, food and other basic relief items for the most vulnerable communities on the island, (2) emergency medical response, and (3) mental and psychosocial support.

After the Emergency Relief phase in Puerto Rico concluded, IsraAID shifted its focus to supporting the island’s long-term recovery. The IsraAID WASH experts conducted a field assessment in the Patillas district, to evaluate the status of the water systems in this area, focusing on independent communal water systems that do not belong to the public water company. The assessment focused on sustainable and resilient water solutions that will supply communities with safe drinking water and water security. IsraAID and the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico in San Germán partnered to develop and construct a gravitational water filtration system for the community of Real, Patillas.

IsraAID is currently in Puerto Rico supporting the community of Real, Patillas with the WASH project; running mental health and psychosocial support workshops for local professionals from the island; and developing new programs to support the island’s long-term recovery in the areas of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Psychosocial Support, and Resilience.

Our Projects

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Water Filters Distribution

September to December 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane María, most of the water bodies in Puerto Rico were contaminated, so access to safe and clean drinking water was limited or inexistent. The rate of water related diseases like diarrhea and gastroenteritis increased, and the deaths related to leptospirosis (a bacterial infection that can occur for consuming or wading in contaminated water) spiked. Because of this reason, as part of the Emergency Relief phase in Puerto Rico following Hurricane María, IsraAID’s team distributed 240 water filters in the center, northern and eastern part of the island impacting over 6,000 people. Each filter can provide safe water to approximately 25 people.

Goals

1. To ensure access to safe drinking water to the most vulnerable communities in the center, northern and eastern part of the island.

2. To promote water sanitation and hygiene in the affected communities.

Achievements

1. 240 filters were distributed with comprehensive, supplementary training in Spanish, to ensure they are used effectively, impacting over 6,000 people.

2. Re-visited communities that received filters to check that they were properly installed and in use, and if not to help with the installation.

3. Ran hygiene promotion activities within the communities to inform them about the risk and prevention methods of waterborne diseases, transmitted via contaminated and stagnant water

4.Trained students from the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao, who were involved in community work in the Eastern part of the Island, on water filter installation. The students were already participating in the distribution and installation activities, and will continue to do so in the future.

5. Coordinated with FEMA Safety and Disability Unit to train 20 people from rural mountain areas, which were difficult to access, about the installation, use and maintenance of filters.

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Emergency Medical Response

September to December 2017

In the aftermath of Hurricane María, a health crisis arose in Puerto Rico. There were outbreaks of diseases including Dengue, Zika, Leptospirosis, and other water related diseases. Few hospitals were operational - most in the San Juan area - as 95% of the island lost electricity. The IsraAID medical team visited five shelters and several remote areas of the island to give medical aid and medications. The team set up six pop-up clinics and made multiple home visits in nine different areas, home to some of the deprived communities of Puerto Rico.

Goals

To provide medical aid and medications to affected individuals.

Achievements

1. The team visited five shelters and several remote areas of the island to give medical aid and medications.

2. In addition to treatment of regular conditions, the doctors also treated diseases related to the lack of safe drinking water.

3. IsraAID’s medical teams were accompanied by local social workers, enabling them to also perform additional need assessments regarding the public health conditions in remote areas.

4. The team set up six pop-up clinics and made multiple home visits in nine different areas across some of the deprived communities in Puerto Rico. The team visited Adjuntas, Humacao, San Juan, Anon, Cataño, Barrio Obrero, Barrio Real, as well as various locations in the island Vieques, at the East of Puerto Rico’s main island.

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Mental Health and Psychosocial Support

September 2017 to Present

The passage of Hurricane Maria through Puerto Rico was devastating. Many people lost their houses or jobs. Emigration increased, separating many families. The country's electricity system collapsed, leaving 95% of Puerto Ricans without electricity. This occured while the island's economic crisis was entering its peak, increasing unemployment, closing schools, and affecting the public health system. All this led to an increased need for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support on the island.

IsraAID's team of psychologists delivered “Post-Trauma Resilience-Building” and “Psychosocial First Aid and Self-care” workshops for local professionals, first-responders, students, faculty staff members, social workers, and other mental health workers. The IsraAID team also visited shelters and gave direct mental health support to the most vulnerable individuals affected by the hurricane. In addition, IsraAID facilitated workshops in hospitals, strengthening local service providers’ capacity in responding to trauma.

IsraAID is partnering with ASPIRA, a local educational NGO that provides services for 3,400 at-risk youth each year. ASPIRA alternative schools are located across the island, providing students from low socio-economic backgrounds with educational opportunities and support to attain educational goals and reach university after high school. IsraAID trained ASPIRA’s teachers in psychosocial support methodologies to add to their ‘resiliency’ module in curriculum. IsraAID psychosocial professionals will work with the teachers, curriculum development staff, and the head teachers of the ASPIRA’s schools, to develop their ‘resiliency’ curriculum.

Goals

1. To give direct mental health support to the hurricane-affected individuals.

2. To build the capacity of the local care providers and organizations to ensure a wider impact and network of support.

3. To deliver “Post-Trauma Resilience-Building” workshops to professionals across the island.

4. To develop the ASPIRA teacher’s knowledge and understanding of resiliency, stress and trauma in order to better serve their students who suffer from challenging backgrounds and trauma after Hurricane María.

5. To develop the ASPIRA resiliency module, providing clear and easy to follow directions for methodologies to use in school with students around the topics of trauma, and to develop the resiliency of the ASPIRA teachers, by learning to practice self care and to provide stress relief tools to use with themselves as well as with students.

Achievements

1. IsraAID’s psychologists visited 6 shelters and gave direct mental health support to the most vulnerable individuals.

2. The psychosocial team provided an introductory “Psychosocial First Aid and Self-care” workshop to local first responders, as well as several sessions on self-care to staff of a local NGO that  works with parents of children with disabilities, and following Hurricane María, with isolated communities which lack access to the mental health facilities in the island’s center.

3. IsraAID  team delivered “Post-Trauma Resilience-Building” workshops for psychologists, teachers, social workers, and other professionals who work across the island.

4. IsraAID facilitated workshops in two hospitals, strengthening local service providers’ capacity (nurses and mental health workers) in responding to trauma. The team used expressive arts participatory methodologies.

5. IsraAID Trained ASPIRA’s teachers in psychosocial support methodologies to add to their ‘resiliency’ module in their curriculum and to ensure their students are adequately supported through their trauma post hurricane María. Also, the IsraAID psychosocial professionals will work with the teachers, curriculum development staff, and the head teachers of the ASPIRA’s schools, to develop  their ‘resiliency’ module in their curriculum.

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WASH project in Real, Patillas

February 2018 to Present

IsraAID, in partnership with the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in San Germán, is constructing a gravitational water filtration system in Real, Patillas. Real is a community located in the northern part of the municipality. Its water system is a non-governmental, communal system independent from the Puerto Rico Aqueducts & Sewers Authority (PRASA). Approximately 250 families live in the community. The population of is low-income and comprised mostly of elderly, retired community members.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the community was without power for more than 8 months and still does not have access to safe drinking water. IsraAID’s emergency response teams provided Water Filters to the community and are now in the process of creating a sustainable approach to community water through a slow-sand, gravity-based water filtration system to provide potable water to residents.

To ensure that the water project in Real is effective, workshops on water quality were held in the month of July 2018, by IsraAID-trained community volunteers. The workshops provided training for the community on how the gravity filter works, why the community needs the system, and why responsible water consumption is necessary.

Goals

To provide sustainable, clean and quality water for the community of Barrio Real, Patillas, eliminating dependence on electricity and enhancing mechanisms of community-managed water system.

Achievements

Partnered with the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico to develop and construct a gravitational water filter for the community of Real. The water filter will impact 250 households.