Strengthening regional readiness — Caribbean prepares for 2019 hurricane season

Source(s): International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

♪ Water come inna mi room
Huh huh!
Mi sweep out some with mi broom
Di likkle dog laugh to see such fun
And di dish run away with the spoon ♪

It was catchy, it was humorous, it was enjoyed by persons as far as Nicaragua, however, it spoke to a very serious subject. It was a song about Hurricane Gilbert and the devastation wrought upon Jamaica in 1988. There are no wildly popular songs about Hurricanes Irma and Maria, perhaps because Lovindeer didn’t write one or maybe because, in this instance, the two hurricanes that came almost back to back caused so much destruction in 2017 that no humour could be found in the situation.

In readiness for the 2019 hurricane season five international organisations, based in the Caribbean, are working with national disaster offices and communities to strengthen disaster preparedness. Saint Lucia, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as the Dominican Republic will improve preparedness during the hurricane season through improved localized early warning systems. Financial assistance was provided by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

The project has a four-pronged approach that includes improving the coordination of aid organisations. After Gilbert many international aid agencies sent zinc to Jamaica because thousands of homes had lost their roofs. However, as Community Early Warning Technical Specialist of the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Nicole Williams recalls, “there was no lumber on which to put the zinc or no nails to attach it to the houses.” This unfortunate circumstance did have a positive outcome – it led to the formation of regional organisations like the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). However, the response to Hurricane Maria in Dominica demonstrated that there is still room for improvement. CDEMA and United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) have been working together to improve on the Regional Response Mechanism.

As part of the project there was a Training of Trainers in Dominica where members of the Dominica Red Cross received instruction on how to deliver early warning systems to the community. Early warning systems are an important aspect of preparedness because allows for early action to save lives and protect assets. National early warning is often not specific to an at-risk community. New communications tools are preferred over traditional radio and television messages. Understanding from where people receive messages and their needs is essential. The needs of vulnerable groups like women or differently-able persons are better considered in the design of alert messages. Karen Lawrence who is attached to the Dominica Meteorological Service described the training as “empowering, knowledge sharing, networking, so much so that people will be so informed that they will be able to make the right decisions at the right time, hence mitigating against all impacts of disasters.”

The international partnership aims is to work with national disaster offices and communities to improve preparedness. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) leads the team on this project and works with national disaster offices to improve communications, test plans through simulations and support public awareness and education. Communities will develop a better understanding of potential risk which will encourage their members to take protective actions.

Red Cross National Societies in the five countries, together with IFRC are supporting other local level actions. Ten communities will implement local early warning systems and will also be provided with the necessary technology to mitigate the risk. Early warning technology including rain gauges, flood staff gauges and warming signs. The technology is not limited to equipment but involves training of Community Disaster Relief Teams (CDRT) and the updating of disaster response plans which are tested through simulation exercises.

There have been 9-15 storms predicted for the 2019 hurricane season with the probability of 4-8 hurricanes. There is the likelihood that 2-4 of those hurricanes will be major ones. As was seen with Irma and Maria in 2017, two major hurricanes can have a severe impact on the Caribbean so the international team recently got together at the World Bank’s Understanding Risk Conference in Barbados 27 May-1 June 2019 to share progress and plan the next steps. Hopefully there will be no need for witty ditties to be sung after the 2019 hurricane season, but it has arrived so get prepared!

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