The road forward should be thought of in two phases: recovering now, and rebuilding for the future.
The island and the emergency workers are still in the early recovery phase, clearing debris and repairing roads for accessibility and distribution of essential supplies, as well as restoring power and water infrastructures. Right now the challenge is to accomplish these activities as quickly as possible. Little consideration should be given to cost—what matters now is avoiding preventable deaths and extreme hardship.
Once the later recovery phase starts, however, a paramount challenge is the long-term survivability of the rebuilt infrastructure. Recovery budgets should be deployed wisely, keeping in mind that Puerto Rico is bound to experience more extreme weather events in the future. A power grid that is underground will be much more resilient to high winds. Power and water infrastructures that are decentralized and decoupled are less likely to completely fail due to disruptions and critical components can be recovered faster to provide partial relief.
The bottom line: More weather events on the scale of Hurricane Maria are inevitable, so now is the time to put into place a resilient infrastructure to mitigate the human toll and economic impact of future storms.
Other voices in the conversation:
- Edwin Meléndez, professor of urban affairs and planning and director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY: The island economy needs massive federal support
- Sergio M. Marxuach, policy director, Center for a New Economy, San Juan, PR: Congress has to step up
- Vivek Shandas, professor of urban studies and planning, Portland State University: Rebuilding with extreme events in mind
- Laurie Johnson, urban planner and disaster-recovery consultant, author of "After Great Disasters": Averting collapse after a catastrophe