Puerto Rico is in the midst of a calamitous humanitarian disaster.
Today, 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico are without power. Water supplies are running low. Fuel shortages are rampant. Communication lines are unreliable. Much of the agriculture and infrastructure is destroyed. People are stranded and vulnerable.
Under these circumstances, the United Nations would typically activate it’s emergency response systems. This includes sending in telecoms specialists to restore communications, set up shelter, and distribute food and other relief supplies.
But since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, the United States must first request the help. And so far, Washington has not asked for it. So, for now, the UN is not participating in the relief efforts in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, however, the UN humanitarian response operations are fully underway. In all, 19 countries or territories have been affected by these storms. Several of these countries are lower income and do not have the capacity to respond on their own, hence the international relief effort. After Hurricane Irma hit, the UN set up a logistics base in Barbuda from which relief items, including food aid, have been distributed across the Caribbean.
UN teams are also on the ground in some of the hardest hit countries, like Dominica where 80% of the population has been displaced.
So while it is unlikely that the UN would mount a response to the catastrophe in Puerto Rico, it is the case that the international humanitarian response is very much underway elsewhere in the region.