Sept. 9, 2017 – The people of eastern Cuba face devastation from Hurricane Irma, the first category 5 hurricane to hit Cuban territory since 1932. Oxfam has been working with the Cuban authorities to develop one of the most effective disaster prevention and response systems in the Caribbean. Oxfam’s risk management projects on the island strengthened early warning capacity, helping the most vulnerable residents and their communities to better prepare for Irma’s wrath.
In response to Irma’s threat, Cuba’s National Civil Defense General Staff took steps to reduce the impact of the hurricane on the island, including an initiative called the Family Guide for preparing for hurricanes in urban and rural areas.
In the provinces at risk – ranging from Guantánamo at the eastern end of the island to the capital, Havana in the west – families in vulnerable areas have been guaranteed access to food and evacuation centers.
In Baracoa, a city hit by Matthew less than a year ago, there were intense rains and the coastline was eroded by the sea. Impacts on agriculture are significant and are currently being assessed. Las Tunas was hit by strong winds and persistent, intense rains. Camaguey was also affected – in particular the municipality of Nuevitas. Many banana and plantain plantations were reportedly destroyed. People in Havana experienced flooding, strong winds and loss of power.
According to figures managed by the United Nations System, more than 1,130,000 people – 10 per cent of the Cuban population – are seeking refuge in shelters, homes of neighbors and relatives, and even in caves, where officials are taking steps to ensure safety. This figure may increase in the coming hours.
Oxfam has worked in Cuba for the past 25 years, recognizing the Cuban expertise that has come from responding to many previous emergencies. The humanitarian organization is closely following the development of Irma and its impact on Cuba. Oxfam’s ongoing work in this Caribbean nation allows the agency, together with local partners and governments, to prepare community and infrastructure damage assessments in order to develop an appropriate response to disasters. Oxfam’s main activities on the island are in Eastern Cuba, a region vulnerable to strong hurricanes that is experiencing one of the worst droughts in the last 115 years.
- Oxfam has been able to maximize its support to the affected communities thanks to the support of organizations such as the Civil Defense, the Red Cross, the Federation of Cuban Women and local governments. Several donors have also assisted in this effort: European cooperation and countries such as Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain.
- In terms of material damage, hurricanes Sandy (2012) and Matthew (2016) are considered – after Ike (2008) – the most devastating cyclones of the last 11 years in Cuba.
- Since the passage of hurricanes Sandy and Matthew, Oxfam’s humanitarian response in Cuba has allowed more than 5,000 people to benefit from totally and partially rehabilitated roofs with a management and risk reduction approach. More than 8000 basic kits (hygiene, cooking) and more than 7,000 water tanks have been distributed.
- Oxfam in Cuba has also contributed to the civil defense system by installing 31 risk management and reduction centers and 97 early warning points. Additionally, the organization has contributed to five seismological stations, nine agrometeorological stations and nine accelerographs within the system of early warning.