COMMUNITY RESPONSES TO CLIMATE DISASTER
When water started going, people started getting worried because they were like, “Where are we going to get water? Supermarkets? Empty. Water tanks? Empty.” Our neighbor was lending us water from his well. But it was water that was not even certified good or not, if it has bacteria or not. But that’s what we were drinking because that’s what we had at the moment. — Bryan D. González Copo, Aguadilla
The University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez is one of twenty-six university partners in the Humanities Action Lab (HAL) “Initiative on Climate and Environmental Justice,” a research project that culminates in an international traveling exhibition and a permanent digital exhibition hosted by Rutgers University.
Our contribution to the Humanities Action Lab exhibition focuses on our study of community responses to climate disaster in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María.
Based upon our analyses of the almost 150 oral histories we collected as part of the Mi María project, we have focused our current research on four main aspects of the post-disaster space: clean water, food insecurity, homelessness, and medical and mental healthcare. While our contribution to the HAL exhibition explores all four of these issues, it highlights our work with water quality.
Working with our community partner–Fundación Surfrider de Rincón, and their Blue Water Task Force, led by Steve Tamar—we have studied water quality after the hurricane. Our research included the inability to locate and procure potable water in the aftermath of Hurricane María and lack of a widespread means of testing drinking water as well as the water pollution that has been exacerbated by disaster capitalism in the post-hurricane space, which has allowed for the dumping of septic tanks and medical waste in our rivers and at our beaches.
We have also worked with another community partner, Fundación de Culebra, to study the program they developed to teach elementary school students how to use a water filtration system and, in turn, teach their families how to do the same; a community leader in Comerío who was working for la Defensa Civil de Barranquitas and partnered with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief organization to distribute water filters and train people how to use them; and, a community activist from Cabo Rojo who leads Limpia tu Playa, an organization whose members kayak at Boquerón beach to pick up trash in the waters and coral reefs by hand.
The HAL exhibition will open at Rutgers University in October 2019 and will travel to the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez in 2021.
Our breakout exhibition, dedicated to Puerto Rico after Hurricane María, has been crafted in conversation with the larger HAL exhibition and will travel independently throughout Puerto Rico and the US.
Banner photograph: UPRM students learning to test water quality with their mentor, Steve Tamar of Fundación Surfrider Rincón, at Steps Beach, Rincón. L to R: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, Steve Tamar, Andres Pérez Colon, Astrid Zapata de Jesús, Juan Pérez Gonzlez, Tatiana Serrano, Allyson Vargas Ortiz, and Kevin López Matias. March 14, 2019. Courtesy of Ricia Anne Chansky.