The motto of the United States is E Pluribus Unum – out of many one. At no time is this message of unity more important than during times of crisis. The U.S., like many countries, has been beset on all sides by increasingly severe natural disasters. Whatever their cause, our communities and national ability (or in some cases willingness) to respond is being strained by a dangerous disaster fatigue. This includes the ongoing suffering in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean, which runs the risk of becoming a forgotten crisis, as memory, the news cycle and commitment fades.
More than 90 days since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the region, millions in the Caribbean face a long road to recovery, while the response efforts have become a flash point for partisan point scoring that has sadly become the hallmark of U.S. politics. Puerto Rico has the dubious distinction of being the longest running blackout in U.S. history, with more than 50% of the island without electricity for 61 days and counting. Dubious reconstruction contracts, such as the scandal surrounding the $300 million Whitefish award, along with political in-fighting on the island, have only served to compound the woes of weary residents and accelerate their out-migration.
A resilient nation is one that comes together with compassion, purpose and long-term resolve during a time of crisis. Whatever the cause of large scale losses like the near total collapse of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and the complete devastation of many islands in the Caribbean, the Federal government and military are all too often the only agencies with the resources to respond. While these are often the costliest of interventions a country has, when people face the type of ruin we are seeing in the Caribbean, the rest of the country and, indeed the world, has an obligation to prove that in the face of severe threats we are not islands unto ourselves and our neighbors will not be forsaken. This clarity of mission should not be blurred by politics, the lack of civility or consensus, but rather requires clarity of purpose to save lives and build back better. Future-proofing the Caribbean is a unique opportunity to pilot models for resilience at scale. Indeed, there is a growing call for a pan-Caribbean Marshall Plan from the likes of Sir Richard Branson and others to galvanize this movement.