Puerto Rico (and the U.S. Virgin Islands) is/are in the midst of a calamitous humanitarian disaster.
Today, 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico are without power. (100,000 people in the U.S. Virgin Islands of Saint Croix, Saint Thomas and Saint John are in a similar condition).
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.
[This is a long-held mis-perception. According to the U.S. Constitution, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are not part of the U.S, but rather "owned by" the U.S. The U.S. Virgin Islands, in particular, is formally recognised by the U.N. as a 'non-self-governing territory,' one of 17 such dependencies scheduled to be reviewed by the U.N. Fourth Committee on 4th October 2017. The U.S. 'citizenship' of the people of these territories is a conditional citizenship, and is devoid of political rights in the U.S. political system. There is no vote for the U.S. president, non-voting status in the U.S. House of Representatives, and no representation in the U.S. Senate.]
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 (and the US Virgin Islands), it is the case that the international humanitarian response is very much underway elsewhere in the region.
[Both territories belong to various U.N. bodies. Puerto Rico belongs to PAHO whilst both dependencies are longstanding associate members of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and have access to a range of U.N. programmes, in principle.
U.N. General Assembly resolutions for over a decade have supported the participation of the US Virgin Islands in the programmes of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)].
Recommends that all Governments intensify their efforts through the
specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system of which
they are members to accord priority to the question of providing assistance to the
peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories;
Urges those specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system that have not yet provided assistance to Non-Self-Governing Territories to do so as soon as possible;
Requests the specialized agencies and other organizations and institutions of the United Nations system and regional organizations to strengthen existing measures of support and formulate appropriate programmes of assistance to the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, within the framework of their respective mandates, in order to accelerate progress in the economic and social sectors of those Territories;