P!N Hurricane Relief Scholarship winner and University of Alabama student Jessica Alvey provides this overview of disaster prep work in the Caribbean
Caribbean nations and Storm Prep
The Caribbean island nations face a series hurricanes every year. During the 2005 hurricane season alone, this area was hit by four hurricanes: Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Meanwhile, 25 percent of the region survives on less than $2 USD a day. The poverty of the region makes it especially difficult for many storm-struck island nations to recover.
PLAN!T NOW (P!N), and international non-profit agencies such as CARE and Doctors Without Borders along with researchers worldwide are working in the Caribbean to address chronic needs there including access to health care and financial security and the short- and long-term needs associated with storm preparedness and post-storm relief.
Reinhard Mechler, an economist studying Disasters and Development at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, has written about the Caribbean’s economic vulnerability to disasters. Mechler believes that the key to attaining stability there “involves better planning for risks, rather than waiting for events to happen and clean up afterwards. …Caribbean countries, with the help of regional and international institutions, over the last 20 years, have increased strongly their focus on and capacity for risk management.”
For instance, the American Red Cross (ARC) has launched a pilot disaster preparedness program. ARC personnel are working in camps to educate families about evacuation routes and provide basic first aid training to volunteers. They’re also boosting infrastructure in small but significant ways through projects like ditch-digging for better drainage.
“We hope, over time, these disaster preparedness activities can be expanded to reach hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people,” said Mat Morgan, head of ARC Caribbean operations.
Today, all eyes in the Caribbean are focused on Haiti, waiting to see how earthquake recovery efforts will overlap with the 2010 hurricane season. Haiti is the most economically poor nation in the Western Hemisphere. This poverty adds another challenge to those posed by natural disasters.
Mechler says Haiti’s poverty and instability have acted as a barrier to storm preparedness.
“A key bottleneck has been civil strife, which necessarily led to reduced investments and efforts by some international institutions,” he said.
In contrast, Partners in Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer points to the debt poor nations like Haiti owe to international institutions, such as the World Bank, as the real barriers that hamper the rebuilding of infrastructure and large-scale poverty reduction, which in turn affect the ability to recover from disasters.
Whatever the cause, today – four months after the massive quake and one month before the official start of hurricane season – poverty remains a dire issue as 1.3 million displaced Haitians live in makeshift shelters and tents. Aid organizations are scrambling to help as many individuals as possible. Both CARE and Doctors Without Borders have increased their presence in the country. ARC and 50 partner groups have been working feverishly to offer some form of shelter since the earthquake; they’ve distributed approximately 400,000 tents and tarps to date.
Efforts to increase disaster preparedness capabilities in the Caribbean will certainly minimize the impacts of natural disasters, including the human and financial costs of recovery. Regional experts like Mechler are enthusiastic about developments like the “landmark establishment of the Caribbean Catastrophe Insurance Pool (CCIP) in 2007, a regional mutual government insurance pool for almost all Caribbean countries, providing instant liquidity post event for relief [spending].”