This year Israel is the only fully-participating foreign country in the annual SOMOS conference for Hispanic leaders of New York.
As part of the conference, Israel’s Consulate General in New York has organized for over 60 participants to tour two specific IsraAID projects in Puerto Rico, as the island continues to recover from Hurricane Maria: the new gravitational sand water filtration system in Barrio Real, and the donation of medical supplies at a school in Caguas.
One year after Hurricane Maria swept across the Caribbean, the Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID, which was one of the earliest international responders to the disaster, has renewed its commitment to the region. In Puerto Rico, where the official number of fatalities was recently raised from 64 to 2,975, IsraAID’s team is working with local partners to provide safe water and develop community resilience. Many of the island’s residents are still without electricity or safe water.
IsraAID’s emergency response team touched down in Puerto Rico in September 2017, only a few days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. The NGO has had a team on the island ever since, providing WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) solutions, emergency medical care, and mental health support. During the initial emergency response phase, IsraAID distributed water filters for 6,000 people in six remote communities, operated six mobile medical clinics, treating hundreds of people from some of Puerto Rico’s most deprived communities in nine different areas, provided direct mental health support in six shelters, and trained the staff of two hospitals in using expressive arts techniques to respond to trauma. Since the initial emergency response phase, IsraAID’s team on-the-ground has focused on developing long-term programs to help accompany Puerto Ricans on the journey towards recovery and a sustainable future.
In early October 2018, IsraAID and the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico will complete construction of a new gravitational sand water filtration system in Barrio Real, a small, rural community, which is not served by the island’s water system. After Hurricane Maria destroyed the community’s main water source, Barrio Real’s residents were left with no access to safe water. It took seven days for bottled water to reach the remote mountain village, during which time only unsafe river water was available. IsraAID distributed temporary household water filters in the initial weeks after the hurricane.
A year later, the residents of Barrio Real are still without a permanent, communal supply of safe water. The new filtration system does not require electricity, ensuring that it can continue to provide a sustainable source of safe water for future generations. Volunteers from San Juan’s Jewish community have been trained by IsraAID to provide door-to-door workshops on safe water and hygiene to the residents of Barrio Real, ensuring that the new water system will be fully utilized. Every currently occupied household has been reached.
The psychological and social effects of the hurricane are still being felt across the island. The recently announced increase in Maria’s death toll is a stark reminder of the disaster’s long-term impact. Since arriving in Puerto Rico, IsraAID’s team has utilized the organization’s long-held expertise in mental health and psychological support to strengthen the island’s capacity to cope with the crisis. As part of its long-term programming, IsraAID’s has partnered with ASPIRA, a local organization providing alternative schooling for 3,400 at-risk young people across the island. IsraAID’s psychosocial support specialists are training ASPIRA’s teachers in how to build their students’ resilience and provide post-trauma support as they recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.