The Guardian — Wednesday 11 October 2017 08.06 EDT Last modified on Wednesday 11 October 2017 13.26 EDT

photo:  Puerto Rico wait for fuel in Orocovis, outside San Juan. More than a third of Puerto Ricans are still struggling to live without drinking water. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Federal officials privately admit there is a massive shortage of meals in Puerto Rico three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) say that the government and its partners are only providing 200,000 meals a day to meet the needs of more than 2 million people. That is a daily shortfall of between 1.8m and 5.8m meals.

“We are 1.8 million meals short,” said one senior Fema official. “That is why we need the urgency. And it’s not going away. We’re doing this much today, but it has to be sustained over several months.”

The scale of the food crisis dwarfs the more widely publicized challenges of restoring power and communications. More than a third of Puerto Ricans are still struggling to live without drinking water.

However, Fema provides no details on food deliveries, keeping its public statements to the most general terms. On its website, Fema says it has provided “millions of meals and millions of liters of water”.

In fact many of those meals are military ready-to-eat meals that civilians find hard to digest if consumed for more than a few days.

Now the biggest provider of cooked meals says Fema is putting its operations at risk of closure.

World Central Kitchen, founded by chef José Andrés, cooks and distributes 90,000 meals a day through a network of local chefs and kitchens.

Its Fema contract, to provide just 20,000 meals a day, ended on Tuesday. Fema insists it is bound by federal rules that mean it will take several weeks for a new contract to emerge to feed more Americans.

“There is no urgency in the government response to this humanitarian crisis,” Andrés said. “They have all the officials and armed guards at headquarters, but they have no information about the island. They don’t even have a map they can share about who needs food. Fema is over-paying and it is under-delivering.”

According to Donald Trump, his own response to the disaster in Puerto Rico has been exceptional.

“Nobody could have done what I’ve done for Puerto Rico with so little appreciation. So much work!” he tweeted on Sunday. The tweet was posted along with a White House video of helicopters and trucks in Puerto Rico, and a title card saying, “What the fake news media will not show you in Puerto Rico.”

However, the Trump administration has limited insight into whether food is getting distributed and how many hungry Americans are struggling to find food.

Trump is receiving little appreciation from the American people for his response to the Puerto Rico disaster. According to a recent poll for the Associated Press, just 32% of Americans approve of Trump’s performance after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

That poll was conducted before Trump visited the island last week, when he tossed paper towels into a crowd in San Juan. The mayor of San Juan called the sight of him throwing rolls of paper “terrible and abominable”.

Conditions on Puerto Rico remain dire; just 16% of islanders having access to electricity. While commercial flights have resumed, and most gas stations have reopened, much of the island’s economy remains at a standstill. Less than 400 miles of the island’s 5,000 miles of road are open to traffic.

Many residents are voting with their feet and leaving their homes behind. The population of the island of Vieques has declined from around 9,000 to little more than 6,000, according to relief workers.

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