Five months after Hurricane Maria, half a million Puerto Ricans are still left without electric power supply and have scarce drinking water, pushing tens of thousands to flee Puerto Rico altogether to cities like Florida and New York, among others. Although the U.S. federal government sent a disaster relief fund of $870 million in December of last year, it was neither sufficient to cover the costs of rebuilding, nor to prepare Puerto Rico for future disasters. Puerto Rican officials have denounced the government’s response, estimating that it will cost $94.4 billion to rebuild the island after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and empower the island against future disasters. On February 24, the Open Society Foundations announced a new initiative titled “The Mayor Exchange,” connecting U.S. mayors with experience in dealing with disaster recovery on the mainland with their counterparts in Puerto Rico working to overcome the damages caused by Hurricane Maria last October.
“Cities are the natural center of action for the people who inhabit them. They are where life takes place; everything starts from them,” says Pedro García Figueroa, mayor of Hormigueros. “From within cities, the country is built. Strengthening the ties of cooperation and understanding between cities also contributes to the sharing of ideas that brings us closer together, to understand and help each other in the face of adversity — and, of course, to share successes.”
Figueroa is chairing the Mayor Exchange initiative, along with New Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Puerto Rican Mayor of San Sebastián Javier Jiménez Pérez, and Open Society Foundations President Patrick Gaspard. On February 25 and 26, U.S. mainland mayors shared ideas, expertise, and lessons learned from their own recovery efforts.
In return, the U.S. mayors will host their Puerto Rican peers to showcase the recovery work that they have been discussing in Puerto Rico. According to Open Society Foundations, this will help the Puerto Rican mayors gain vital insights and deeper awareness of their island’s situation.
However, it isn’t clear whether The Mayor Exchange will fill the gap that the federal government has failed to fill; which is funding. No mention was made of how much money would be donated to the disaster relief processes in Open Society Foundations’ press release.
The move reflects a trend of U.S. cities increasingly taking action to compensate for the federal government’s absence.