In a Facebook post today, Mark Zuckerberg pledged $1.5 million in aid to organizations assisting in Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, together with direct assistance from Facebook’s connectivity team to help the country get back online. The hurricane left 80 percent of the island without power, and citizens have faced intense shortages of food, fuel, and drinking water in the seven days since landfall. A FEMA briefing on Tuesday reported that only 11 of the islands 69 hospitals had power.
The $1.5 million donation is split between the World Food Programme, an anti-hunger organization, and NetHope, a consortium of non-profits that works to improve connectivity in undeveloped or disaster-stricken areas. Zuckerberg asked concerned followers to donate to Save The Children, which is working to distribute aid on the island.
Zuckerberg emphasized the importance of communications in the recovery effort. “With 90% of cell towers on the island out of service, people can't get in touch with their loved ones, and it's harder for rescue workers to coordinate relief efforts,” the Facebook CEO wrote. “We're sending the Facebook connectivity team to deliver emergency telecommunications assistance to get the systems up and running.”
The company also plans to use donated Facebook ad space to share critical information with Puerto Rican users, although the ads will be of little use until power and connectivity is restored.
In practical terms, the effort will be a collaboration between the connectivity team and NetHope to survey the current state of Puerto Rican networks in the weeks to come, Facebook said. Once that survey is complete, it will help inform the group’s effort to reestablish the networks and connect relief workers. Facebook previously collaborated NetHope as part of an Ebola response effort in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Facebook’s connectivity team is best known for ambitious technology programs like the Aquila drone, an unmanned, solar-powered craft designed to connect remote areas to the internet.
Federal aid has been slow to arrive to Puerto Rico, and Governor Ricardo Rosselló has openly pleaded for further aid. “We need more help with people being deployed so that we can get logistical support elsewhere,” he said on a television show Tuesday morning, “and we need Congress to take action so that we can have an aid package that is real for the American citizens that live in Puerto Rico.”
Update 9:19PM ET: Updated with further detail on Facebook’s collaboration with NetHope.