By Jessica DiNapoli
(Reuters) - As the effects of a drought in Puerto Rico grow more severe, the commonwealth's representative in Congress has called on the U.S. Department of Defense to provide assistance to the island.
Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi in a letter dated Tuesday asked the department to create a task force to identify what it can do to replenish the island's depleted reservoirs or to bring water directly to communities suffering most from the drought.
"I want to make sure every possibility is explored given the worsening drought conditions and water rationing we are facing in Puerto Rico," Pierluisi said in a prepared statement.
The U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 20 percent of Puerto Rico's total land area is currently experiencing "extreme" to "exceptionally extreme" drought, according to Pierluisi's letter.
In early May, the monitor said some of the island's municipalities were under moderate drought, according to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA).
Around this time, PRASA began rationing water in some parts of the island.
The severe lack of rain is another blow to Puerto Rico as it struggles to restructure some $72 billion in debt.
According to Pierluisi's letter, the island's Department of Education announced that because of water rationing, schools affected by the drought will operate only Monday through Thursday and with a shortened school day. Some school breakfasts are at risk of being canceled and lunches may be reduced or modified when the schools do not have water, he wrote.
"A child should not have to go hungry or be denied a meal because of drought beyond their control," Pierluisi said in a statement.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture named several Puerto Rico municipalities as disaster areas, giving them access to emergency loans to make up for crop and livestock losses stemming from the drought.
(Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli, editing by G Crosse)