Amnesty International Puerto Rico made a call to the local and federal governments to ensure that relief and reconstruction efforts protect human rights following the earthquakes earlier this week, and the ongoing seismic activity.
“It is very worrying that the government of Puerto Rico has not provided an adequate and immediate response to the predictable needs of the communities affected by the earthquake,” said Annette Martínez, director of Amnesty International Puerto Rico’s Board of Directors.
“It is unacceptable that those who are left homeless have to sleep outdoors without a safe roof, without access to basic services, bathrooms, drinking water, food and electricity,” she said.
Citing published reports that more than 1,000 people in towns along Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast have had to sleep in public spaces without government assistance, Martínez said the “State has the responsibility from day one of what happened to enable suitable and dignified places for all those people who do not feel safe in their home.”
Liza M. Gallardo, executive director of the organization, said “unlike Hurricane María, the area affected by the earthquakes was more limited and easily identified, so the State’s action had to be faster and better coordinated.”
“We remind the local and federal government that housing is a human right, which allows people to live with security, peace and dignity,” Gallardo said.
The lack of adequate measures to ensure this right can have serious consequences for people’s health and safety, Martínez said.
“We recommend that the State avoid unnecessary mass displacements and try to immediately implement measures to correct the structural failures of the affected homes, provide safe accommodation, and guarantee access to basic services,” said Martínez.
“The disbursement of adequate funds for housing reconstruction is necessary to protect the people’s rights to remain in their communities,” she added.
Martínez said no decision should be made unilaterally, without the affected families being consulted and deciding freely on the solution that best suits their needs.
“It is essential to ensure the informed participation of communities in the decision-making that affects them and to ensure greater transparency in the use of public funds to address the situation,” she said.
The experience during the post-Hurricane María recovery process has shown that many people have been shut out from home reconstruction economic assistance programs.
“We’re concerned that, in this event, exactly the same will happen. Therefore, we recommend that the State exclude from the disaster assistance processes the eligibility requirements that impose unnecessary and discriminatory burdens,” Martínez said.
“The government must ensure that the process for receiving aid is agile and quick, taking into account the immediate needs and providing adequate lasting solutions in the best interests of the affected families,” Martínez said.
The organization officials said international experience shows that mass camps and settlements can result in other protection risks, since displaced people lose control of who comes and goes in their spaces, their mobility and privacy are greatly limited, as well as the possibility of conditions for adequate hygiene, food and safety.
“It’s necessary that the State seeks to ensure as soon as possible adequate places of temporary housing since it is not acceptable for people to spend the night indefinitely in tents or their vehicles,” said Gallardo.
“It is also imperative that the specific needs of people at greater risk are met, such as women, victims of gender-based violence, children, the elderly, people with disabilities and LGBTIQ + people, among others,” she added.