Op-Ed: How environmental and public health issues threaten the economy
When we thought of a pandemic, we never imagined that we would have to experience one in our lifetime. Nor a category 4 hurricane, much less an earthquake. It was an unthinkable scenario for many.
In the last 45 months — or three and a half years — Puerto Ricans have lived through all three.
It is not how much, it is the frequency, according to the popular saying. And when we think that nothing else can happen to us, the Federal Drought Monitor announced recently that the percentage of drought on the island increased to 77%, which is 43 percentage points more than last week.
Today, 63% of the island is under atypically dry or water-deficient conditions, which does not bode well given that summer has not yet begun and many disinfection measures to cope with the pandemic depend on water.
As if something else were missing in the catalog of calamities, in what represents an environmental crisis and another public health risk, about a million discarded tires are accumulated in many corners of the island and in the open waiting to be collected.
It is well-known and proven that discarded tires are the breeding ground par excellence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits diseases such as dengue, zika and chikungunya. Although it does not rain enough to recharge aquifers and replenish reservoirs, we need little water to develop a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
At times like those in Puerto Rico, another threat or problem can collapse the public health system and seriously affect the economy.
The risks associated with environmental health problems have an impact on the most vulnerable populations. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 24% of deaths globally are related to environmental factors. The pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and the planet, according to the WHO General Director.
A healthy society is the foundation of a strong economy. Healthy societies in turn depend on a healthy environment. To recover from any threat to health and safety, we need healthy environments. The climate emergency is also a health crisis.
In Puerto Rico there are many environmental laws and regulations that are a dead letter or whims of the one who proposes them. Faced with the challenges of the last 45 months and with a view to the future, our island needs to rethink its environmental and health public policy.
If we want an island that can recover from any situation, it is time to think about long-term solutions, while tackling the problem in the short term. Earthquakes, pandemics, droughts and hurricanes are part of the process of nature and life on the planet. They can cause environmental crises and health risks that are substantially aggravated for anthropogenic reasons.
Puerto Rico needs to reduce its vulnerability to these. That will be the key to reducing the risk of suffering impacts in complex future scenarios.