In the wake of one of the worst droughts in Puerto Rican history, political leaders from the territory are pleading for help from the U.S Department of Defense.
On Tuesday, Puerto Rico's Congressional representative, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pleading that he form a task force to consider resources it could like those it might deploy for other disasters.
Among other things, Pierluisi expressed concern for the drought's impact on the more than 476 public schools that serve over 100,000 students in 17 different municipalities. "Affected schools will operate only Monday through Thursday and with a shortened school day schedule," Pierluisi wrote.
He asked for the DOD to find ways to replenish the territory's reservoirs or to bring and provide water to its parched communities. Among his requests was for the DOD to consider dispatching ships that have mobile desalination capabilities, something an advocacy group for Puerto Rico has been petitioning for, or using one of its ships to deliver water supplies in the same way the USS Kearsarge did after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
"I want to make sure every possibility is explored given the worsening drought conditions and water rationing we are facing in Puerto Rico. That is why I wrote the letter today," Pierluisi said in a statement.
The drought in Puerto Rico is affecting more than 2.5 million people and has led to extreme water restrictions as well as complete water cutoffs across the territory.
The United States Drought Monitor has declared that 85 percent of Puerto Rico’s total land area is currently experiencing drought conditions, and 20 percent is experiencing “extreme” to “exceptionally extreme” drought. Last week, U.S. officials declared six more of the island's municipalities as natural disaster areas.
Pierluisi said the island also been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help its education department come up with school meals that can prepared without using water.
School began Monday but will only meet through Thursday and the school day has been shortened. The San Juan school district has made plans to cancel breakfast for students at over 350 schools on days the schools don't have water.
On another front, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, a Washington, D.C. based advocacy group for Puerto Ricans on the mainland and the island, launched a petition on the White House web site calling for U.S. shipborne desalinization plants be used to provide potable water to the drought-stricken territory. As of Wednesday, the petition had 4,607 signatures. It has a goal of 100,000 by Sept. 2.
The drought has worsened is facing serious economic woes and a $72 billion debt it cannot pay.