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Resiliency Projects Successfully Withstand Puerto Rico’s Energy Emergency

A series of projects undertaken by Direct Relief kept health centers and fire stations operational, and gave remote communities continuous access to clean drinking water.


Resilient Power

Solar panels on the roof of Migrant Health Center in Las Marias, P.R., on September 11, 2018. The solar power system was funded by Direct Relief. (Photo by Erika P. Rodriguez for Direct Relief)

San Juan, Puerto Rico – A recent fire at a major Puerto Rico power plant plunged the island into darkness. But a series of Direct Relief projects, undertaken in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria with the hope of increasing resilience in Puerto Rico, kept connected health centers, fire stations, and remote communities operational and with clean drinking water.

In the years since 2017, when the hurricanes caused widespread damage to Puerto Rico and its power grid, Direct Relief was able to support solar energy projects in community health centers, fire stations, and aqueducts in communities not served by Puerto Rico’s municipal water system. These efforts, which allowed for a continuity of health services, emergency response, and access to clean water, were due to a $50 million donation from pharmaceutical company AbbVie in 2018 for the recovery and strengthening of health services in Puerto Rico.

In the midst of last week’s emergency, which highlighted the continuing instability of Puerto Rico’s electrical system, eight community health centers, in which solar energy systems and batteries have been installed, reported that they are operating at full capacity.

Nonprofit organization Por Los Nuestros, with grant funding from Direct Relief, installed solar panels and battery storage systems in communities that are not served by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA). These non-PRASA communities rely on electric pumps to supply drinking water. During the recent energy crisis, 24 out of 25 aqueducts continued to operate adequately.

“For us as an organization, the power outage ended up being the best reminder of why we need to keep fighting for ‘our own,’” said Anabelle Torres Colberg, president of Por Los Nuetros’s board of directors. “Thanks to the grant awarded by Direct Relief, we have been able to energize 25 community aqueducts…There was no greater satisfaction for us than listening to the messages from community leaders letting us know that they had uninterrupted water access.”

Finally, the group Solar Responders, in collaboration with Direct Relief, installed solar energy systems at fire stations in Cataño and Guánica, which began operating immediately after the emergency arose, and have continued to operate and charge batteries throughout the day. This allowed first response services to remain in force in the face of the power shortage.  

“The emergency that occurred in the past few days successfully tested several of our projects that, thanks to funding from AbbVie, we were able to make a reality,” said Ivonne Rodríguez-Wiewall, executive advisor of Direct Relief Puerto Rico. “In the midst of the instability and uncertainty caused by a country in the dark, we are very pleased to be able to support the continuity of community health center operations, preserve the operations of first responders, and help rural communities have uninterrupted access to drinking water.”

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