When Eduardo Lugo hears trucks rumble by his home in southwestern Puerto Rico, there is a moment when he wonders if it’s the sound an earthquake makes just before it hits. An associate professor of psychology at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, Lugo says this type of traumatic trigger is just one of the legacies of living through years of devastating hurricanes and earthquakes.
When the power goes out, people often lose access to water, food spoils, Lugo says, “It’s like a domino effect for people. And it’s definitely affecting people’s mental health.”
The last several years have brought disasters to the island that have killed and displaced thousands of people, and highlighted fissures of inequality that did not heal when the power came back on. “Whenever some sort of natural disaster affects Puerto Rico,” Lugo says, “it seems to highlight a problem, and how inefficient the government was in attending those situations.” When Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, for example, cutting people off from medical care and crippling the electric grid for months, it worsened child poverty in Puerto Rico.
In the aftermath of these catastrophes, researchers and residents are concerned many vulnerabilities have still not been addressed—raising urgent questions about how to best strengthen the island’s infrastructure. Building truly equitable and sustainable energy will require addressing complex issues like colonial legacies, poverty, and gentrification. But at the policy level, Lugo says, “conversations are fragmented between all these different spaces.”