26 September 2017

Puerto Rico and Maria

Puerto Rico, which was already in fiscal crisis, has been devastated by Hurricane Maria.

What should be done?

Should large numbers of Puerto Ricans, at least temporarily, relocate to the mainline during the rebuilding period as many people from New Orleans and the vicinity did after Hurricane Katrina? 

A fair number of NOLA refugees were gone for good, permanently reducing the population of the city and the state of Louisiana. Does that make sense for Puerto Rico?

If not (or in any case for those who do not leave), how can the privation existing on the island be mitigated much more quickly than it is being mitigated right now? 

Should we be taking this opportunity to rebuild in a manner that is more resistant to Hurricane damages knowing that climate change makes the hurricane risk going forward higher than it has been historically?

For example, are there ways to rebuild the electrical and communications grid more robustly? How can the water supply system be made more hurricane-proof? Are there ways to make its dams less at risk of failure? Should building codes be enforced strictly now despite the shortage of inspectors, limited resources for construction, and need for rapid rebuilding work that works at odds with dealing with the current crisis? Should roads be rebuilt more sturdily, or does it make more sense to acknowledge that some infrastructure will be regularly destroyed by weather than invent only an amount that reflects its shorter than average useful life? Do there need to be better shelters in place? 

Remarkably the death toll in Puerto Rico seems to have been pretty modest for the scale of the disaster although we may not yet know everything yet since communications are still down across the island.

Are there places in Puerto Rico that are "stupid zones" that shouldn't be rebuilt (at least not with government flood insurance, etc.)?

Worse yet, the island has about $123 billion in debt and pension obligations, compared with a gross domestic product of slightly more than $100 billion, a number that is sure to fall. In the last decade, the island has lost about 9 percent of its population, including many ambitious and talented individuals. In the past 20 years, Puerto Rico’s labor force shrank by about 20 percent, with the health-care sector being especially hard hit. The population of children under 5 has fallen 37 percent since 2000, and Puerto Rico has more of its population over 60 than any U.S. state.
Via Marginal Revolution.

Maybe migration to the mainland that was already underway will simply be sped up by Maria.

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