FEMA assistance for Puerto Rico
On Oct. 20, 2022, President Joe Biden increased FEMA assistance for Puerto Rico to accelerate recovery efforts after Hurricane Fiona. This amendment builds upon Biden’s major disaster declaration on Sep. 21, 2022, which authorized the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to lead recovery efforts in Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities. While the original declaration on Sep. 21 set the federal funding for emergency protective services at 75%, President Biden increased the share to 100%. The 100% share, which previously covered emergency costs for the first 30 days after Hurricane Fiona, will be extended to 60 days under the Oct. 20 amendment. These funds will go toward “debris removal and emergency protective measures” as well as “direct federal assistance” to aid in recovery efforts, according to The White House.

Ongoing Recovery Efforts After Hurricane Fiona

From Sep. 17 to Sep. 21, Hurricane Fiona destroyed homes and businesses across Puerto Rico, resulting in multiple fatalities. Puerto Rico’s Department of Health notes more than a dozen confirmed deaths related to Hurricane Fiona, from causes such as head trauma and drowning. When Hurricane Fiona reached Puerto Rico, many residents were still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria, which caused severe damage to the island just five years earlier.

Although the storm came to an end, more than 100,000 residents struggled without power even two weeks after the storm hit. LUMA Energy, the company in charge of Puerto Rico’s grid, restored power to 91% of its customers but faced difficulty reaching more remote areas. NPR reported that “nearly a third of customers in the western region of the island” had no electricity access as of Oct. 2.

The storm also destroyed bridges and vital transportation roads, preventing many emergency services from reaching more isolated regions. While government officials and local groups have successfully reached many of these areas, transportation concerns remain for the elderly, people with disabilities and people with preexisting health conditions.

FEMA’s Emergency Protective Services

FEMA has been working closely with the government of Puerto Rico to boost recovery efforts. In a Sep. 25 FEMA press release, Puerto Rico’s Governor Pedro Pierluisi stated: “We are committed to ensuring our people have access to essential services. We will continue working collaboratively with all our mayors so that full disaster assistance reaches the 78 municipalities.”

According to a FEMA report on Oct. 11, FEMA teams have registered more than 3,700 residents for FEMA’s Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA). DSA crews have “referred more than 2,600 individuals to voluntary agencies” to assist with medical care and transport, evacuation and shelter, home restoration and other relief services.

Because FEMA requests that survivors communicate their needs primarily through email, phone or the mobile app, FEMA aimed to provide internet connection and power in more isolated regions. For example, FEMA installed mobile satellite systems in mountainous regions to establish Wi-Fi hotspots. Once connected with FEMA, survivors can register for “federal disaster assistance.” After survivors apply for assistance, FEMA inspectors schedule an appointment to assess the damage.

Learning From the Past

FEMA’s efforts have already made a considerable impact on survivors of Hurricane Fiona. However, Puerto Rico has experienced difficulties initiating recovery projects through Public Assistance funds provided by FEMA. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that, in January 2021, FEMA pledged $23.8 billion through Public Assistance funds to help Puerto Rico recover from the effects of previous hurricanes and earthquakes as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the GAO reports that “because Public Assistance is a reimbursement program, Puerto Rico must provide the initial funding for projects and seek reimbursement afterward.” However, Puerto Rico’s financial difficulties posed barriers to accessing funding to begin the obligated recovery projects. As such, by May 2021, Puerto Rico had only spent $4.7 billion of the $23.8 billion. Additionally, Puerto Rico “only spent $158 million for long-term rebuilding projects, such as rebuilding schools, the power grid, water systems and other damaged infrastructure,” the GAO said.

The GAO recommends that FEMA identifies potential barriers to Puerto Rico’s recovery and takes action to address these risks as recovery efforts in Puerto Rico continue. With this feedback, FEMA can strengthen the recovery response in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. With Biden’s new funding plan, FEMA will be able to expand its territorial and local efforts on a larger scale.

– Anna Lee
Photo: Flickr

Hurricane Ian
In the midst of the most powerful hurricane in nearly a century, Cuba’s Antonio Guiteras thermo-electric power plant lost power leaving 11 million without electricity. By Monday, October 3, 2022, reports stated that some of the island had regained power, yet large numbers of Cubans were still in the dark. Much of the island has experienced a subsequent water crisis as the plant is responsible for pumping fresh water across the island. Hurricane Ian produced winds upwards of 150 mph, leaving two dead and 20 unaccounted for. As authorities scramble to recoup in the wake of hurricane Ian, many have been wondering what is next, and when the state-run power grid will be up and running for all.

Dismay in the Eye of the Storm

On Tuesday, September 27, 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Cuba as a Category 3. It impacted the city of Pinar del Rio the hardest. Winds of up to 125 mph battered the western part of the island, damaging some of the most important tobacco farms in La Robaina. Agriculture is the main industry in the island nation and damage to this farm could result in further deprivation, as the circulation of goods is already slow. Cuba’s power outages have grown more frequent in the previous months, with a dated electrical power system, and blockage of income from tourism, the country’s stability is teetering.

The country depends on its export of medicine, and medical practitioners, as well as tourism and remittances, to remain somewhat secure. The COVID-19 pandemic left the country in a desperate economic state, with the closure of tourism, and President Trump’s new restrictions on Western Union transfers introduced in November 2020. Now Russia’s war in Ukraine has blocked tourists from dispersing their usual flow of hard currency in the country. Russians made up 40% of the tourists visiting Cuba in 2021, but the war halted flights back to Russia overnight, and along with air travel, a flow of touristic income has ceased to exist.

Upside and Solutions

Luckily, the Cuban model of disaster relief is much more advanced than the U.S. The U.N. has called the Cuban system “A Model in Hurricane Risk Management.” However, the factor that makes this model so advanced is education. Cubans learn how to prepare for a storm from a young age and receive warnings well in advance when a hurricane is approaching. This leads to fewer deaths overall as people flee the area of impact well before the storm arrives. Moreover, people are knowledgeable about how to prepare for hurricanes, and they take absolutely nothing for granted.

The U.N. reported that “All institutions are mobilized 48 hours before the hurricane hits the island, to implement the emergency plan, and measures such as massive evacuation are taken.” Unfortunately, much of this initiative has occurred out of necessity. Due to the authoritarian government, Cuba’s actual poverty data is hard to come by, but in 2020, the population was indirectly estimated to be at a poverty level of 41-50%. With the country in a dire state due to the pandemic, increased sanctions, and now trade issues with its global partner, individuals have often been on their own.

Global Solutions

Cuba is set to receive 1 million Euros in Aid from the EU. The storm damaged an estimated 100,000 homes, leaving many in need of housing. This act of solidarity by the EU will help the island nation recoup in the wake of the disaster. While government sanctions have still been largely hindering the country from receiving donations, Catholic Relief Sevices, in partnership with Caritas Cuba, has found a way around the blockade to get vital, non-perishable goods, water and supplies to people who need them.

– Shane Chase
Photo: Pixnio

Supporting the Caribbean
The Caribbean has long been a source of tropical weather including disastrous hurricanes, which can sweep some of the developing Caribbean countries to their feet. With high wind speeds and paths that often hit kilometers wide, hurricanes can be very dangerous to land and its ecosystems and to people and their economies. Before a hurricane ever hits the Caribbean there is already a financial disparity, causing rebuilding to be more difficult for lower-income areas. As a result, supporting the Caribbean is incredibly important.

Homes in lower-income areas usually comprise less expensive materials that cannot withstand a hurricane. Lower-income areas may also not have access to technology for updates on the weather, where to receive assistance in times of a weather crisis and a lack of general communication between family and friends. This can be a huge stressor for those living in low-income areas that experience hurricanes. In Puerto Rico, the poverty rate in 2021 was 43.4%.

A study from Geroge Washington University reported on Hurricane Maria that “mortality that resulted not just from direct impact from the storm but from things like failure to get to a hospital because of impassable roads or insufficient or expired medicine for people with heart ailments or chronic illnesses.” Hurricanes in the Caribbean can exacerbate homeless and further displacement. For this reason, it is necessary that organizations including ECHORN are supporting the Caribbean after hurricanes.

Notable Hurricanes in the Caribbean Between 1979-1994

According to a 2019 St. Lucia Loop News article, the following hurricanes discussed are the deadliest hurricanes to hit the Caribbean thus far. The fourth deadliest hurricane to hit the Caribbean was Hurricane Gordon occurring from November 8 to 21, 1994. Hurricane Gordon made impacts on Jamaica, the Bahamas, Cuba and Turks and Caicos. Windspeeds were up to 85 mph and although it was only a category 1 hurricane, it caused $594.1 million in damage and took 1,152 lives.

The third deadliest hurricane to hit the Caribbean was Hurricane David which hit between August 25 to September 8, 1979. Hurricane David made a major impact on the Dominican Republic, specifically on August 29, 1979. Windspeeds for Hurricane David reached 175 mph causing $1.54 billion in damages. On August 30, 1979, Hurricane David turned into a category 5 hurricane, producing waves of 20-30 feet and mudslides which killed 1, 200 people out of a total of 2,068 deaths.

Notable Hurricanes in the Caribbean Between 2004-2019

The second deadliest hurricane to affect the Caribbean was Hurricane Jeane, which hit Puerto Rica and lasted from September 13-28, 2004. Windspeeds for Hurricane Jeane reached 120 mph and left damages in its wake costing $7.94 billion, according to Loop St. Lucia News.

The deadliest hurricane to occur in the Caribbean from 1979 to 2019 was Hurricane Maria, totaling 3,059 deaths. Hurricane Maria occurred from September 16 to October 2, 2017, and hit Puerto Rico, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Anguilla, The British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. Hurricane Maria hit the Dominican Republic with winds up to 175 mph in affected areas, causing $96.1 billion in damages, Loop St. Lucia News reports. The hurricane left some areas without food, clean water and electricity for several months.

One can only imagine the devastation that many Caribbean people and islands have endured over the years. Hurricanes can be a deadly part of life for many living in the Caribbean. This is why it is imperative that teams are working remotely and on the ground to aid survivors and rebuild communities of those impacted by Caribbean hurricanes.

ECHORN: Supporting Caribbean Communities After Hurricanes

The Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network is a team of individuals located in various parts of the Caribbean as well as the United States. Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith started ECHORN in 2017 after Hurricane Irma and Maria, “which devastated the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin/St. Maarten, Barbuda, Dominica and many others.” ECHORN is working to alleviate disease in the Caribbean through action-oriented research.

Most of its work pertains to disease research but it also has a Caribbean Hurricane Relief Fund that supports the Caribbean people, land and economy. ECHORN’s reason for helping Caribbean communities after a disaster is because “Climate change causes more severe storms and hurricanes that threaten island communities. The Caribbean is already under serious economic strain from the ongoing pandemic. Decreases in tourism, dependency on food imports and stagnant economic growth have complicated plans for disaster preparedness and recovery.” The ECHORN Hurricane Relief Fund is supporting the Caribbean nonprofits that aid in community health and well-being after natural disasters, such as hurricanes. ECHORN has a committment to providing long-term support to the Caribbean islands. Its goal in supporting Caribbean communities is to rebuild and restore crucial health and social services for the well-being of all who live there.

ECHORN’s Accomplishments in Supporting the Caribbean

ECHORN hurricane relief funds have gone towards rebuilding communities and establishing positive impacts on Caribbean communities. At the Caño Martín Peña ENLACE Project of San Juan, Puerto Rico, ECHORN’s hurricane relief funds were able to help rebuild a community garden, which not only feeds the community but provides safety and community involvement. Additionally, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands was able to purchase a community-sized refrigerator to hold more food to provide for people in the community.

Hand2Earth of St. Vincent & the Grenadines used ECHORN’s hurricane relief funds to support vetiver projects in the Dominican Republic. “Planting the vetiver grass restores and stabilizes eroded landscapes. When harvested, the grass also provides a renewable resource for a craft industry that supports at-risk populations.” Because of ECHORN’s dedication to supporting the Caribbean, efforts have occurred to rebuild and improve Caribbean communities after disaster strikes.

– Kaley Anderson
Photo: Flickr

Hurricanes Eta and Iota
Honduras is a Central American country bordering the Caribbean Sea. Because of its location, Honduras is able to produce valuable goods like textiles, sugar cane and coffee. However, 2020 proved to be a challenging year for the country and its economic output. COVID-19’s impact on Honduras was undoubtedly destructive but the added impact of Hurricanes Eta and Iota further affected Honduras’ economy and overall conditions in the nation.

COVID-19 in Honduras

Honduras confirmed its first official case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in early March 2020. Schools closed shortly after March 13, 2021, and businesses were limited to 50% capacity per a nationwide mandate. These commissions stunted the economy and placed Honduras in a financial crisis. While the country’s GDP contracted, Honduras experienced a period of inflation. Prices of everyday items, like coffee, skyrocketed. In addition, a decrease in worldwide tourism led to growing economic instability. The World Bank reports about 45% of Honduran households facing income losses in the wake of the pandemic. Suspended operations and businesses put approximately half of Honduras’ citizens out of work. The emotional toll of the virus itself is equally notable. The significant number of deaths reflects COVID-19’s impact on Honduras. More than 9,000 citizens have died since the start of the pandemic.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota and Honduras

On November 3, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall in Honduras as a Category 4 storm, affecting more than 1.8 million people. Not even two weeks later, Hurricane Iota made landfall on November 17, 2020. An astounding number of vulnerable families experienced displacement, forcing many to relocate to crowded collective shelters. Helpful and necessary resources in shelters dwindled fast and the lack of proper social distancing mandates contributed to Honduras’ increase in COVID-19 infections. The devastating effects of Eta and Iota’s flooding had major impacts in the flooded San Pedro Sula airport, restricting people’s abilities to seek refuge elsewhere via flights.

Vaccine Rollout in Honduras

COVID-19’s presence was difficult for most countries to endure, but with the destructive addition of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, the year was undeniably life-threatening for Honduras. Honduras has vaccinated about 24% of its total population. Compared to other countries, it also has a decreasing number of peak cases. However, as of April 2021, COVID-19 vaccine rollouts have slowed in Honduras because of the United States’ own complicated vaccine rollout.

As newly mutated strains of the virus can easily prolong Honduras’ medical and economic ruin, COVID-19’s impact on Honduras is apparent. With the introduction of the COVAX initiative in August 2020, co-led by WHO, CEPI and Gavi, more developing countries will be able to access vaccines. However, with the United States’ slowed distribution and environmental challenges like Hurricanes Eta and Iota, it is difficult to ascertain how long it will take Honduras to rebuild itself. Addressing the country’s needs with sufficient funding and resources will, most likely, be an incredibly instrumental means of aiding Honduras.

The Road Ahead

Caritas Internationalis created a two-month-long emergency relief program to assist Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala in recovery. Each nation received €250,000 worth of aid for “food, hygiene kits, access to safe drinking water and ensuring people can protect themselves from COVID-19.” Caritas committed to aiding in the recovery and well-being of about 2,500 families in this period, which equates to 12,500 citizens. Additionally, increased congressional support of the COVAX initiative could help Honduras access more vaccines, stabilizing the nation and protecting it from further impacts of the virus.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

How Hurricanes Impact Poverty in CubaCuba and its capital city, Havana, must battle a rising threat: hurricane season. While many may think of Cuba as a vacation destination, Cuba is home to an aging population dependent on agricultural exports with a general lack of everyday necessities. Moreover, a significant number of Cuban citizens live in poverty. Increasing numbers of natural disasters only exacerbate this issue. Hurricanes impact poverty in Cuba and reduce the country’s ability to respond. Just recently, on July 5, hurricane Elsa hit Cuba with winds of over 60 mph. While overall damages were minimal, Elsa is merely one example of the growing annual threat.

Poverty in Cuba

Poverty in Cuba looks distinctively different from poverty across the world. For instance, Cuba has a planned economy, dependent on its agricultural and tourism sectors, with many social programs like universal access to healthcare, education and entertainment. However, while unemployment rates are low and poverty data is largely unknown, the Center of Humans and Democracy estimates that 66% of Cuban households receive less than $100 per month. Half of those families subsist on less than $1.33 a day.

Because of widespread poverty and an outdated healthcare system, COVID-19 posed a significant risk to the Cuban population and economy. Throughout 2020, Cuba experienced multiple food shortages, including staples such as chicken, eggs and rice. As a result of the pandemic, economists expected GDP to fall by 6% in Cuba.

How Do Hurricanes Aggravate Poverty in Cuba?

The simple answer to how hurricanes impact poverty in Cuba is that hurricanes are costly. Repairing infrastructure and housing damages requires an impressive governmental response. For example, in 2005, Hurricane Dennis caused Cuba an estimated $1.4 billion in damage, destroying 120,000 homes and killing 16 Cuban citizens. Cities like Havana were without power for several days. Additionally, more than 20% of the country was without water for an extended period. The U.S. and EU offered disaster relief aid to Cuba, but the Cuban government rejected both offers.

However, it’s more complicated than the mere cost. Oftentimes, powerful hurricanes hurt Cuba’s agricultural sector by destroying crops that are critical to Cuba’s economy. This makes it even harder to respond to the initial damages. Hurricane Dennis resulted in significant damage to Cuban agriculture, specifically to the citrus, fruit and vegetable industries. The storm destroyed 30,000 acres of bananas and 127,000 tons of vegetables. Economic losses like these ones inhibit Cuba’s overall disaster response and economic rebound.

Hurricane Irma and its Impact on Poverty in Cuba

Similar to Hurrican Dennis, in 2017, Hurricane Irma destroyed more than 4,000 homes on Cuba’s coast, severely damaging the country’s electoral grid and disrupting its agricultural industry. Hurricane Irma destroyed 7,400 acres of banana, rice and sugar crops across Cuba. The damage resulted in a food shortage, an exacerbation of poverty and a decline in the agricultural sector that plagued Cuba throughout the following months.

Not only do hurricanes cost billions of dollars in repairs and damages, but they consistently damage crops, constrict the country’s agricultural economy and hinder the country’s ability to fund an appropriate response. Hurricanes impact poverty in Cuba by constricting the country’s economic resources, response and food supply.

Additionally, scientists predict natural disasters and tropical storms are likely to increase as a result of climate change. In the coming years, Cuba will likely experience more storms, more agricultural disruptions and a higher need for a stronger response.

Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery

While Cuba is already a world leader in hurricane preparedness and recovery, increased storms will require a re-evaluated response. As another hurricane season reaches Cuba’s shore this summer, the country and its government must consider what more can be done to react to these potential threats.

After Hurricane Irma, Floridians, many with family in Cuba, mobilized to form nonprofits like the CubaOne foundation to help the country and its citizens recover from the natural disaster. CubaOne raised $50,000 for relief and sent more than 40 volunteers to help rebuild some of the areas most affected by the storm. While hurricanes aggravate poverty in Cuba, network responses and relief like these will aid Cuba in overcoming the effects of natural disasters.

– Zoe Tzanis
Photo: Flickr

Impacted by HurricanesOn November 2, 2020, Hurricane Eta made landfall in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. As a Category 4 hurricane, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the Central American region in many years. Shortly after, Hurricane Iota hit. Thousands have died and many have experienced displacement. Since Central America is one of the poorest areas of Latin America, the U.S. is in a position to help alleviate the crisis by providing foreign aid to those impacted by hurricanes.

Poverty in Central America

Nicaragua is the second-poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, Nicaragua’s poverty rate sits around 15.1%. Geographically, the poorest area of Nicaragua is the Atlantic Coast of the country. Similarly, Honduras is an impoverished nation located north of Nicaragua. Honduras is also one of the poorest countries in Central America. Furthermore, Honduras’ geographical location leaves it exposed to extreme weather such as heavy rainfall and droughts. The most vulnerable, oftentimes rural and coastal populations, are susceptible to these intense weather changes. Neighboring countries of El Salvador and Guatemala are also impoverished nations with vulnerable populations. The increased climate disasters leave these populations at risk of death, poverty and becoming climate refugees.

Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota

On the eve of Hurricane Eta’s landfall, the Nicaraguan government evacuated around 3,000 families living in the coastal area. According to UNICEF, more than a million Nicaraguans, which also includes half a million children, were endangered by the hurricane. El Salvador evacuated people as a precaution and many of Guatemala’s departments declared a state of emergency.

Hurricane Eta made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm destroyed houses, hospitals and businesses. Widespread flooding and mudslides were responsible for the casualties across the region. Unfortunately, Hurricane Eta was not the only storm blasting through Central America.

Weather forecasters predicted another strong storm, Hurricane Iota. Also a Category 4 hurricane, Iota made landfall 15 miles south of where Hurricane Eta did just days prior. The hurricane further stalled the rescue efforts of the region. In Honduras, the hurricanes impacted around 4 million people with more than 2 million losing access to health care. Moreover, Guatemala had more than 200,000 people seeking shelter after the two hurricanes.

Foreign Aid to Central America

The Central American region is impoverished and vulnerable to natural disasters. Furthermore, many Central American nations depend on foreign aid from the United States. The countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (the Northern Triangle) rely on foreign aid from the U.S. to manage rural poverty, violence, food insecurity and natural disasters. Moreover, that aid has been reduced under the Trump administration. Since Donald Trump took office, the aid for these countries has reduced from $750 million to $530 million. In April 2019, Trump froze $450 million of foreign aid to the Northern Triangle, further diminishing the lives of many. Foreign aid keeps Central Americans from plummeting to extreme poverty and also curtails migration to the United States.

Congress Pleads for Foreign Aid

As Hurricane Eta ravaged through Central America, Rep. Norma Torres (CA-35) wrote a letter urging Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to increase foreign aid to Central America. Torres (CA-35) wrote, “Hurricane Eta was an unavoidable natural disaster, but its aftermath is a preventable humanitarian crisis in the making.” In addition, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), Eliot Engel (NY-16), also showed his support for increased aid to those Hurricane Eta impacted. Engel wrote, “a large-scale U.S. effort is needed to provide much-needed relief to those affected by Eta so that they are not forced to leave their countries and make the perilous journey north.”

USAID Provides Disaster Relief

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has agreed to increase aid by $17 million to the countries impacted by Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota. Studies have shown that foreign aid is a successful policy to reduce global poverty. Any aid given to these countries benefits the lives of those impacted by hurricanes in several significant ways.

– Andy Calderon
Photo: Flickr

How Hurricanes Affect Poverty Around the WorldHurricanes are large storms that develop from warm ocean waters. As they reach land, they create a storm surge, pushing ocean water onto the land, causing extreme damage such as infrastructure loss and flooding. Hurricane season lasts from May to November and causes loss of life and property for coastal regions around the globe. This article will examine how hurricanes affect poverty around the globe and organizations that help combat their destruction.

Hurricanes And Poverty: The Cycle

Hurricanes affect global poverty as they slow development and cause a significant loss of money, pushing people and countries into poverty. Each year 26 million people fall into poverty due to natural disasters. In particular, hurricanes cause a decrease in development and a loss of GDP. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused 30 years of decreased development in Honduras and Nicaragua. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan led to losses of more than 200% of Grenada’s GDP.

Hurricanes disproportionately affect impoverished communities. Those with lower income have less access to technology, which leads to a lack of information and leaving them unprepared for a coming natural disaster. Additionally, disadvantaged populations live in less stable housing that does not fare well against natural disasters. For example, the Caribbean has a history of suffering a severe impact of hurricanes, and this is partly because 60-70% of the infrastructure is informal, meaning not professionally made or following safety protocol.

Impoverished communities also have less access to transportation and healthcare, leaving them with fewer resources after a hurricane. In Puerto Rico after the 2017 Hurricane Maria, 2975 people died as a result of not having the transportation to go to a hospital or sufficient life-sustaining medicine. Rebuilding also requires funds that many disadvantaged populations do not have. While the rich can often afford to move out of high-risk areas, impoverished households cannot. Developing countries also cannot afford to protect high-risk areas, by, for example, rebuilding structures with higher elevations and installing sea walls. Hurricanes affect those living in poverty the most and, as a result, hurricanes push them further into poverty.

The Red Cross

The Red Cross is one of many organizations that provide hurricane relief around the world. It has stations throughout the globe, so it can provide emergency services and life-saving materials quickly to those who need it in the aftermath of a natural disaster, such as hurricanes. Many people working with the Red Cross are disaster response specialists who can work quickly in a disaster zone and are trained in situations that may occur during and after a hurricane. The Red Cross also reconnects families separated in natural disasters. The Red Cross has helped in hurricanes around the globe, including Haiti after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

Other organizations that help those living in poverty recover from hurricanes include Heart to Heart International, Convoy of Hope and Tourism Cares. By donating to any one of these organizations, one could help bring an impoverished person their livelihood back and help them recover from a hurricane, helping to bridge the gap between the rich and poor in terms of hurricane recovery.

– Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr 

Healthcare in the Virgin IslandsThe COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected healthcare in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) but risks to public safety in the territory go beyond that. Since the beginning of 2020, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has implemented mass healthcare reforms to help many people of the territory in several areas. Specifically, Governor Bryan and the government addressed long-term problems with healthcare for the region’s people such as emergency medical service regulations, access to healthcare for people of any race or income level, aiding individuals with disabilities and hospital facilities.

Previous Healthcare issues

Prior to the  COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many other things pointing towards issues with access to healthcare in the USVI. Three elements can describe issues the territory has had in providing good healthcare plans to its people: quality, cost and accessibility. Environmental concerns, such as lack of clean water, mismanagement of waste and overfishing, have also impacted peoples’ health negatively. Additionally, homicides have been a big issue as well.

Since March 2020, USVI has had three times as many deaths due to gun violence compared to deaths due to COVID-19. All these factors have put pressure on medical facilities and the resources to help those in need. The government has not always been a great help in funding its hospitals and health insurance has not been cost-friendly to individuals of the territory.

Hurricane and COVID-19 damages

Adding to the previous risk factors towards healthcare in the Virgin Islands, the recent hurricanes and the COVID-19 aftermath have made things much tougher. In 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria cratered improvements in funding towards healthcare plans the territory put in place. Many nurses had to leave for work after heavily hit hospitals such as St. Thomas and the Schneider Regional Medical Center experienced damage. Many patients who were already recovering from their own illnesses or injuries had to be transferred or died as a result of these natural disasters. The most recent and well-known risk factor to public health and safety of the territory is COVID-19. As of September 1, 2020, there have been 1143 positive cases and 15 reported deaths.

Healthier Horizons

As the territory moves to address problems with healthcare in the Virgin Islands, positive plans have been put in place that will improve healthcare in the region. Governor Bryan and the USVI government have called the healthcare plan “Healthier Horizons.” This plan will directly focus on 11 parts of a good healthcare system:

  • Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities
  • Health Information Exchange
  • Telehealth
  • Medical Compacts
  • Virgin Islands Fire Service and Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
  • EMS regulation
  • Healthy Housing Initiative
  • Associated Health Plans
  • Improved Hospital Facilities
  • Health Plan of the Territory
  • Medical Cannabis

All of these parts of the territories’ action plan for providing more efficient, immediate and affordable health insurance to the citizens of the USVI will cover many issues. This reform is not only based on the foundation of previous problems of healthcare in the Virgin Islands but also stems from the desire to allow any individual, no matter their race or income, to get the medical help they need. This also includes updating medicines and health resources as well as having stronger funded hospitals and facilities across the islands.

Dorian Ducre
Photo: Flickr

Hurricanes amplify poverty in the Bahamas
On September 1, 2019, a massive Category 5 hurricane hit the Bahamas, bringing mass destruction and devastation to the people living there. The storm, named Dorian, took the lives of 70 people and left thousands homeless. A storm of this magnitude impacts all people in its path, yet those hit hardest are the ones living in poverty. During the hurricane season between June and November, hurricanes amplify poverty in the Bahamas by increasing the unemployment rate and exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities. Hurricanes also leave many without access to food, water and shelter.

Unemployment Rates Rise

The Bahamas relies heavily on tourism from resorts, casinos and cruise lines to support its economy. Bahamians living in poverty-stricken conditions depend upon employment from these resorts to support their families. A large storm like Dorian often reduces these resorts and casinos to rubble, leaving thousands unemployed. It is in this way that hurricanes amplify poverty in the Bahamas.

Before the destruction that Hurricane Dorian caused, the unemployment rate stood at 10.9%; however, after the storm, the unemployment rate rose to a staggering 50%. With a fractured economy, an abundance of destroyed homes and limited food and water, survivors of the storm had to leave their homes and families had to seek employment elsewhere.

The Helplessness of Poverty-Stricken Neighborhoods

Of those missing and pronounced dead following Dorian, many were Bahamians living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. The Mudd, a neighborhood well-known for its high levels of poverty, is just one of many that major hurricanes have leveled. Thousands of Haitian immigrants sought refuge in unstable wooden homes, which were no match for hurricane-force winds. The winds reached 185 mph winds, blowing neighborhoods like it to pieces.

In an interview conducted with Dorval Darlier, the chargé d’affaires of the Haitian Embassy in the Bahamas, Darlier described the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in The Mudd. He stated that “It looked like a bomb just exploded. It is completely destroyed. Not even a piece of wood stands up in The Mudd. If someone was not evacuated, they have to be dead.” Approximately 3,500 Haitian immigrants live in The Mudd and other poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

The devastation that hurricanes leave increases public health risks, particularly for the poor. Bahamians living in poverty tend to take refuge in the most vulnerable areas. When a storm threatens the island, they are the least able to afford to evacuate. Additionally, they often have no choice but to stay in life-threatening conditions. Bahamian officials must visit these neighborhoods and urge residents to evacuate; however, many refuse to leave because they either have no place to go or are living in the Bahamas illegally.

Hurricanes Expose Inequality

In the past, hurricanes like Dorian have exposed the severity of inequality in the Bahamas. People living in poverty-stricken conditions, primarily Haitian immigrants, end up without homes. Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis vowed not to rebuild immigrant neighborhoods like The Mudd: he mandated that those without homes after a storm are to experience deportation.

Shella Monestime, a Haitian evacuee and resident of one of these neighborhoods, spoke out following the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and the Prime Minister’s response. She stated, “We just lost everything. We have no clothes, no home, no money. We have to start all over again. People died, and all they are talking about is people getting deported.”

Relief workers in the country have emphasized the drastic nature of this social inequality. A lack of legal papers and uncertain statuses prevent immigrants from receiving assistance after a hurricane. Fear of arrest and deportation has forced the Haitian community into hiding. The Bahamian government has instructed relief workers not to provide assistance to Haitians without proper documentation.As a result, they often end up homeless and helpless after massive storms ravage the area.

Hurricane Aid Provides Hope

The American Red Cross is just one organization that helps rebuild and aid people who experienced an impact from hurricanes. In response to Hurricane Dorian, the American Red Cross provided food, shelter, clean water and emergency supplies to thousands of families that the storm displaced. As of June 30, 2020, the Red Cross had distributed more than $11 million in cash to more than 3,000 Bahamian families. This funding has helped families recover financially and overcome many challenges that Dorian brought on.

In partnerships with Mercy Corps, World Central Kitchen and CORE, the American Red Cross is able to continue providing thousands of gallons of clean drinking water, cash grants to business owners, fresh meals, rent payment assistance and physical aid in rebuilding homes. More than 50 disaster respondents have reached the Bahamas. Each of them has specializations in varying categories including IT/Telecommunications, relief distributions, cash-as-aid, information management, communications, shelter and finance.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has already been extremely active with 11 storms as of August 6, 2020. Additionally, predictions have determined that there could be 10 more storms by the end of the year. Although hurricanes amplify poverty in the Bahamas, aid from organizations like the American Red Cross provides hope to those affected. Despite past destruction, the island continually recovers and proves its resilience as a country.

– Jacey Reece
Photo: Pixabay