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USAID hurricane preparation effortsBefore hurricanes arrive, aid organizations such as USAID work to prepare for the natural disasters. USAID hurricane preparation efforts for the Atlantic hurricane season include ensuring that the organization itself and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean have the supplies and knowledge needed to minimize the impact of hurricanes. With the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season underway, USAID’s preparation efforts will help communities, especially those most impacted by poverty, recover from the aftermath of hurricanes.

The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast

June 1 marked the start of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season with the arrival of the first Atlantic hurricane, Hurricane Elsa. According to AccuWeather meteorologists, Hurricane Elsa is one of seven to 10 hurricanes expected for the year 2021. Meteorologists believe three to five of these hurricanes will qualify as major hurricanes — hurricanes with wind speeds more than or equal to 111 miles per hour.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast predicts a season with above-average intensity, but meteorologists do not forecast a record-breaking season. As with the 2020 hurricane season, COVID-19 presents a challenge for evacuation and relief efforts.

The increased poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean also create a new challenge for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Extreme poverty levels increased in the region during 2020 due to COVID-19, with approximately 12.5% of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population currently living in extreme poverty.

People living in poverty face more barriers in recovering from the impact of hurricanes because they lack access to financial resources that could help them rebuild and seek assistance after hurricanes land. Furthermore, impoverished countries usually lack resilient infrastructure and housing, making these countries more vulnerable to damage and destruction.

Off-site USAID Preparation

Effective USAID hurricane preparation efforts require the agency to accumulate the supplies needed to help people affected by hurricanes. USAID maintains supply stockpiles in the U.S. state of Miami, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Pisa in Italy. By maintaining these stockpiles, USAID can distribute supplies as needed.

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also include testing temporary shelter in simulated hurricane conditions offsite before taking it to disaster-prone areas. Testing housing helps ensure that people impacted by hurricanes receive shelter that is safe and resilient to natural disasters.

On-site USAID Preparation

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also involve working with people on-site in communities at risk of hurricanes. USAID trains meteorologists, educates people about individual safeguarding measures to take to stay safe during hurricanes, stations experts in the Caribbean and Latin America and sends teams to disaster sites before hurricanes make landfall. All these actions help minimize the impact of hurricanes. To create teams that are familiar with the region before disasters happen, USAID stations long-term consultants, advisers and program officers in Latin America and the Caribbean.

USAID’s onsite work in Latin America and the Caribbean creates a network of people prepared to respond to disasters. As of May 2019, USAID trained 70,000 people in the region on disaster response. USAID provides disaster management teams with the necessary information to evacuate regions before flash floods begin, the most life-threatening aspect of hurricanes, by training meteorologists to evaluate the risk of flash floods.

Hurricane preparation saves lives by ensuring that physical and human capital is in place to respond to hurricanes and their after-effects. The Atlantic hurricane season continues until November 30, 2021. With the dedication of organizations such as USAID, disaster response in developing countries is strengthened and the impacts of natural disasters are mitigated.

– Caroline Kuntzman
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