Recovery and adaptation in post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico: local and government perspectives

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Disasters represent disruptions to stability and offer lessons about how climate adaptation is negotiated and acted on. Viewing adaptation as a negotiation helps understand recovery not just as actions taken

Disasters represent disruptions to stability and offer lessons about how climate adaptation is negotiated and acted on. Viewing adaptation as a negotiation helps understand recovery not just as actions taken to minimize harm, but a reflection of values and motivations surrounding adaptation. This research elicits these perspectives and considers them as part of an ongoing agreement for disaster recovery and adaptation in Puerto Rico. Previous research has characterized recovery as an opportunity for rethinking societal arrangements for climate adaptation and highlights the importance of how adaptation is conceptualized across actors. This study builds on past research by using distinct perspectives to understand recovery as an adaptation process and a co-production of a new ‘social contract’ after Hurricane Maria. Community interviews and government documents are analyzed to understand who is involved, where change is happening, and what resources are necessary for success. The purpose of this is to consider distinct framings of recovery and adaptation, and what these contribute to long-term change. Community interviews give a perspective of local stability and show capacities for immediate and long-term recovery. Similarly, government documents discuss managing foundational vulnerabilities like infrastructure, while navigating recovery given geographical and economic obstacles. Findings show that self-organization and harnessing social capital are crucial components of recovery in the Corcovada community after Maria. They rely on bonding and bridging social capital to mobilize resources and reduce vulnerabilities for future threats. This transformative approach was also present in official recovery documents, though political and economic change were stressed as necessary for stability, along with modernizing infrastructure. While recovery documents suggest connecting physical and social resilience, community residents have cultivated this connection long before Maria. Unlike in Corcovada, the government of Puerto Rico is only starting to view disruptions as windows of opportunity and therefore mention plans for transformation but don’t present actions taken. Further, the reality of vulnerable infrastructural, political and economic systems greatly affects recovery both in Corcovada and across the island. Both perspectives will likely affect actions taken in Puerto Rico and recognizing these unique framings of stability can help design transformative, adaptive social contracts for facing future threats.