The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) reached a collaborative agreement aimed at conducting investigations pertaining to strengthening resilience and sustainability in the event of a hurricane or other atmospheric event.
The measure, supported by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), was designed to tackle the challenges that Caribbean islands face due to their geographically instilled proneness to devastating weather phenomena.
UVI President David Hall stated that the university has multiple open investigations on the improvement of infrastructure and “many” other assets of economic development. “We truly believe that partnering with the UPR, which is doing this type of work and has been doing so many other positive things, will make us move faster,” he said.
As part of the agreement, both university systems will collaborate on developing investigation proposals, projects for economic development, and transfer knowledge in areas of mutual interest that will bolster both academic institutions.
Linda Cruz-Carnall, the EDA’s director for the region, traveled to Puerto Rico to witness the pact and stressed the importance of this agreement. The official asserted that her agency is optimistic that the universities can achieve significant results and high added value for the economies of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
Meanwhile, Juan Bauzá, a spokesperson for the EDA, explained that the agency has a center in the UPR Mayagüez campus but it is lacking a physical establishment in the USVI. “When we started to take advantage of that in the recovery efforts, we realized that this was an opportunity to transfer technology and collaboration between the universities and that this could open the door to biotechnology, medical equipment and many other areas for economic growth in the future,” he said.
2017 was a historic year for both U.S. jurisdictions. Hurricanes Irma and Maria drastically impacted Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, including its aqueduct, energy and telecommunications systems. Maria in particular propelled international media attention due to the islandwide devastation in terms of public and mental health, safety, and economic stability, with the latter already at a precipice due to a recession that has firmly hindered the island’s development for more than a decade.
In addition to these challenges, the death toll of this category 4 storm rounds up at roughly 3,000 people, both during its landfall and in the aftermath due to lack of essential services, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history.
Moreover, the recovery process in the USVI from both of these hurricanes has been patchy and residents fear that they are not equipped to withstand the impact of another storm.
Tropical Depression Karen has already generated a plethora of memes and comedic comments from residents in mainland U.S. but has sparked what can best be described as a collective trauma among the survivors of the 2017 hurricanes. Although Karen is estimated to have minimal impact due to its relatively slow gusts of winds, both U.S. jurisdictions fear that even a low-scale weather event could hinder its recovery or affect the provision of essential services such as water and electricity.
As such, Jorge Haddock, the president of the UPR, affirmed that this “historic alliance” will foster new opportunities for economic development in the region through the creation of academic and investigative projects in regards to renewable energy, innovation, and the development of resilient technology that can respond to the needs of these Caribbean islands.
“[This alliance] will bring unique and multidisciplinary experiences to our students and professors, who will participate along with the UVI’s academic community in several projects that will also allow us to find solutions to the difficulties that weather events create in the region. We strive to be an example to the rest of the world,” Haddock said.
The UPR president added that the institutions will continue exploring opportunities for student and staff exchanges.
“Our priorities continue to be to increase our student population, improve their academic experience, increase external funds to further investigation developments, obtain scholarship funding and to improve infrastructure,” Haddock stated.
Editor's note: This story was published on the September 25 print edition of The Weekly Journal.