A devastated island
In the fall of 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, claiming many lives and triggering an economic and humanitarian crisis for the island. When the skies cleared, staff from Para la Naturaleza, a unit of the accredited Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, ventured out to survey the damage on its lands. They found widespread community devastation.
“Puerto Rico’s humanitarian needs were so great that as a land trust, we decided to stop our operations and go out and help the communities around our natural reserves and historical sites,” says Fernando Lloveras San Miguel, president of Para la Naturaleza. “We can’t have conservation without having the connectivity and relationship with this community.”
The land trust created the Para la Naturaleza Community Fund to help people with basic recovery efforts. Their primary activities have included clearing roads; stabilizing structures; getting tarps for those who lost their roofs; and distributing water, food and supplies. Thanks to donors from around the word, the fund now contains upward of $1.7 million.
One of Para la Naturaleza’s main projects has involved retrofitting 50 community centers with battery-operated solar power and water purification systems. “Our dependence on fossil fuel proved to be so detrimental during Maria,” says Lloveras San Miguel. “We learned that what we need is a distributed, independent energy system so that communities will be more resilient for the next hurricane.”
In addition to addressing basic human needs, Para la Naturaleza is focused on supporting Puerto Rico’s overall economy, which took a massive hit due to the storm. Approximately 100,000 residents have left the island, and scores of factories, manufacturing plants and stores lie shuttered. Among the land trust’s goals is to help small, organic farmers get back on their feet. They have distributed $250,000 in grants to 50 farmers. In addition, they are raising money to hire 100 workers to plant trees and vegetation in areas decimated by the hurricane.
This article originally appeared in the spring 2018 issue of Saving Land magazine.