Water, An Abundant But Endangered Resource in Puerto Rico

Water preservation is considered the best way to help us prepare if and before climate change gets any worse. Though many nations are enforcing certain practices through government efforts and the work of nonprofit organizations, some, like Puerto Rico, lack the programs and funding to make any progress.

Special Report by Cristina Ramirez Doval

Due to its political status as a U.S. territory, Puerto Rican population struggles to gain ground in this aspect.

 According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the nation ranked number 13 among the countries with the most toxic gas emissions on the Planet. That doesn’t stop the archipelago’s communities from doing everything in their power to prepare themselves and educate others about climate change and the importance of water conservation. 

 One of the main advocates for the preservation of water resources in the main island is 30 year-old Amira Odeh. An environmentalist by profession and nature lover at heart since childhood, her moment of impact came as early as 1994 when she was four.

 “Puerto Rico was going through a terrible drought, the government had to ration the water, and I clearly remember saving water when we had it and going through it when we didn’t”, Odeh said.

After completing a bachelors’ degree in Geography at the University of Puerto Rico’s main campus in Río Piedras and moved to Chile, where she completed a master’s degree in Water Resources wanting to go back to preserve her homeland’s ecosystems. 

Even though she is completely devoted to her work, she has noticed many obstacles along the way. 

Since the Puerto Rican government is the country’s biggest employer, Odeh explained this  is a deterrent to any progress in the environmental field. Based on her experience, she noticed that the vision of progress in government is to sell the island’s natural resources.

 “Most of the time, they sell our resources to pave the way for the construction of hotels and to promote tourism, what the political class doesn’t see is that our natural resources are what attracts tourists and that we, the locals, need these resources in order to survive”, she said. 

Based on the priorities of the government, the environmentalist added that the very few environmental agencies in the country have scaled back. 

“These offices have reduced their workforce and have become more bureaucratic, which is why work in the environmental field is harder to come by and when you do find a job, the pay is terrible”, she said.

While many nonprofits have been able to establish themselves in the main island -for environmental work and other purposes-, the geographer explained that Puerto Rico has not reached its full potential in this sector. 

Odeh believes that whenever a nonprofit startup asks for funding in local government, it is denied. Then, when they try to reach out to international agencies that provide grants, the latter refuse as well. 

Several foreign entities believe that since Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony, it is better off than other countries because it receives federal funding.

Despite these obstacles, Odeh continues to pave the way for environmentalists all over the Caribbean. 

Last December, she received the Euan P. McFarlane Environmental Award for Outstanding Environmental Leadership in the Insular Caribbean, given by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.

Odeh agrees women are more connected to water and nature since their daily duties revolve around both. 

“Even here, historically, men have been going to work in factories and women stay and work in the fields, they need water to carry out their daily chores, they need water to give to their children and bathe them, it is essentially the base of life”, she explained. 

It comes as no surprise that another woman is giving the good fight to save the island’s natural resources, this time, in the Puerto Rican Capitol. 

Puerto Rico’s House Rep. Mariana Nogales Molinelli has pushed two bills pertaining the environment, one of these would empower citizens to incriminate any organization if it is done with the intent of protecting public health and natural habitats.

At present, a citizen can only act when illegal or dangerous practices are being carried out near their residence. Nogales Molinelli advocates that anyone should be able to take a stand against projects that are hazardous to the environment, since they endanger all communities equally. 

Puerto Rican women are especially conscious of how vital it is to protect the environment and engage in water preservation.

Photo Credit: Amira Odeh

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