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How The US Mismanaged Drinking Water Support To Puerto Rico After Hurricanes

WASHINGTON DC, United States

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the United States mishandled distribution of aid, including water, in Puerto Rico after two devastating 2017 hurricanes, the country's Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said in a new report.

FEMA lost visibility of approximately 38 Percent of its aid shipments, worth an estimated $257 Million USD, to Puerto Rico following hurricanes Irma and Maria. In addition, supplies successfully delivered to Puerto Rico took an average of 69 days to reach their final destinations.

Supplies included water, food, blankets, cots and sheets. Water, one of the most important life-sustaining commodities, experienced average shipping delays of 71 days.

Of the approximately 97 million litres of water FEMA shipped to Puerto Rico between September 2017 and April 2018, 36 million litres (approximately 37 Percent) reached the regional staging areas of points of destination for distribution. The remaining shipments of water either remained in FEMA’s custody, were in contractor facilities, or had unknown destinations.

In a post-disaster situation, FEMA is required to ensure survivors receive life-sustaining commodities as quickly as possible to help with the recovery process.

“Given the lost visibility and delayed shipments, FEMA cannot ensure it provided commodities to Puerto Rico disaster survivors as needed to sustain life and alleviate suffering as part of its response and recovery mission,” the report found.

The report described a number of failings that led to the lost visibility and delays. They include inadequate FEMA contractor oversight, the failure of FEMA to use its transponders to track aid shipments, allowing the contractors to break inventory seals, and not ensuring documented proof of aid deliveries.

Contract costs grew without FEMA having proof that services were properly performed, which led to contract overruns of about $179 Million USD and at least $50 Million USD in questioned costs.

As part of its audit, the Office of Inspector General conducted a survey in Puerto Rico, which supported its report’s findings. According to the survey, it took FEMA an average of 10 days immediately after the hurricanes to deliver the first food and water to the disaster survivors. Only 27 Percent (8 of 30) of Puerto Rico’s municipalities surveyed received sufficient amounts of water.