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Hurricane Season…Here We Go Again

Two years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the Caribbean, Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas in September of this year. Those affected by Irma and Maria are still rebuilding infrastructure and mourning the loss of loved ones. This devastation is not new, as the Caribbean historically falls victim to strong hurricanes and their aftereffects. Hurricanes have likely become more frequent with climate change, where warmer water temperatures in the Atlantic have led to repeated Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. The Caribbean can expect to face these severe storms annually; unfortunately, individual countries lack the infrastructure and measures needed to secure their citizens’ short-term and long-term safety. As a result, regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), should contribute the resources and training needed to save lives. These organizations should lobby for support from the international community, improve training and coordination efforts, and create preemptive measures before a storm’s arrival.

By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES-East satellite © 2019

As climate change worsens, hurricanes will become increasingly damaging during landfall. Warmer ocean temperatures, due to greenhouse gas emissions, result in increased wind speeds and rainfall rates, contributing to storms similar to Hurricane Dorian. It is estimated that the Bahamas potentially faced up to 60 inches of rain during the storm’s 40-hour stay. Additionally, as sea levels rise, storm surges will cause more damage to cities and tourist hubs, which are central to the Caribbean economy. The devastation caused by massive hurricanes strips the Caribbean of a large source of its income (tourism), destroys infrastructure, and causes unnecessary deaths.

Hurricane Maria caused $90 billion in damages while Hurricane Irma caused $50 billion. At the moment, Dorian’s damages are placed at $7 billion, but that number is expected to rise in the coming months. These hurricanes have lasting consequences. For instance, after Maria and Irma, tourism in the Caribbean for the following year dropped 8.7 percent. Also, as a result of these hurricanes, 95 percent of Barbuda’s properties were damaged, which will take years of recovery. For Dorian, the damage is difficult to calculate in these early stages, but it is estimated that up to 70,000 people are homeless. Furthermore, the death toll for these hurricanes is climbing. There are 50 confirmed deaths due to Dorian with more than 1,300 people still missing. Maria caused 2,975 deaths with a further 47 related to Irma. Thankfully, coordinated help from the region can decrease these deaths and damages.

Regional organizations, such as CARICOM and the OAS, are integral to addressing hurricane season. Preparing for hurricanes needs to be a year-round effort. Outside of hurricane season, CARICOM and the OAS should appeal to countries and organizations such as the United States, Canada, India, and the European Union. These countries have experience with hurricane-like storms, have the capital to provide sufficient financial assistance, and have historically given aid to the Caribbean. Drawing their attention is necessary because Caribbean countries, on their own, cannot rebuild their islands. Countries in the hemisphere do well during rescue missions, but CARICOM and the OAS need to push countries to help with rebuilding efforts as well. If the Caribbean as a region can show its ability to work together, then it is more likely to entice help from other countries.

Regional training efforts in the Caribbean are progressing, yet they still need improvement.  CARICOM and the OAS can allocate more funds to programs such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), which is housed under CARICOM. CDEMA holds conferences and produces reports on natural disasters in the Caribbean, creates integration methods for hurricane response, and is currently strengthening early warning systems throughout the region; greater involvement from this agency is vital. Further integrating CDEMA and its preemptive efforts will save lives, a goal achievable in the short-term. For example, storm surges cause significant damage during hurricanes; therefore, with the improvement of coastal habitats, seawalls, and resilient structures, these storm surges can be weakened. Additionally, enforcement of sand dunes and coral reefs, which are natural ways of lessening a storm surge’s effect, needs to become a priority. Alongside these improvements, the Caribbean should invest in high wind-resilient infrastructure. This will aid in the strengthening of homes, government buildings, and structures pertinent to Caribbean tourism.

Although the Caribbean is attempting to address climate change, this will not stop the annual hurricane season. Therefore, in the short-term, institutions in the hemisphere will need to focus on garnering international assistance, improving training and coordination efforts, and initiating preemptive measures.

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Wazim Mowla

Wazim Mowla is a graduate student at Florida International University. His research interests include Guyanese public and foreign policy, U.S.-Latin American relations, addressing immigration crises, and identity politics. Feel free to connect with Wazim on Twitter @WMowla or via LinkedIn.
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