Impact of hurricanes on the Caribbean region
The Caribbean’s most devastating and unfortunately, common weather occurrence is hurricanes. They are large and whirling storms which generate winds from 119 to 252 km/h, whose speed can be compared to high-speed trains. Such large rotating storms bring destructive winds, torrential rain, and coastal flooding, which destroys everything in its path often leading to erosion.
Therefore, powerful storms generate an incredible amount of energy. Every second, a major hurricane releases an amount of energy equivalent to about 200 times the total electrical generating capacity on the planet. That is why hurricanes are sometimes called “heat engines”.
There are two main ingredients to form a hurricane. The first one is warm water which provides the energy a storm needs to become a hurricane. The surface water temperature must be at least 26 degrees Celsius (79 degrees Fahrenheit). The other ingredient is winds that are consistent in speed or direction.
This occurrence is particularly strong in the Caribbean due to the high humidity and warm air which produce suitable conditions to form these hurricanes. Since 1980, there were 283 recorded climate disasters in the whole Atlantic Region. Furthermore, it is out of the question that Hurricanes hold a grave economic impact. The cost of such catastrophes was estimated to exceed 1,002 Tn USD.
Maria, in 2017, damaged 90% of Puerto Rico, the United States, the United States Virgin Islands, Dominica, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, Martinique, and Haiti. It caused overall losses of approximately 68,6 Bn USD. In addition, Hurricane Sandy ranked second, with an economic impact estimated at 68,4 Bn USD, including territories of the United States, Cuba, Haiti, the Bahamas, Canada, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
Between 2018 and 2020, the costliest hurricanes in the Caribbean Basin were Hurricane Michael, which mostly affected Cuba and the United States, at an estimated 16 Bn USD. In terms of registered losses, Hurricane Dorian followed, with around 5,6 Bn USD, and most recently Hurricane Isaias, with 5,4 Bn USD.
Years elapsed and we still have a lot of victims because of such disasters which we cannot prevent impact or give the necessary, timely response. They destroy buildings, basic services such as electricity, water, and sanitation, and obliterate countries’ nature. In response, neighbouring islands always try to give the helping hand to those impacted by hurricanes, by channeling resources in a timely, effective, and flexible manner.
In addition to the loss of human lives, as well as wildlife, political and economic implications, the infrastructure of a community is often destroyed along with the subsistence crops and harvest for export. For example, three sequential hurricanes in Cuba in the 1840s destroyed coffee trees and led Cuban planters to temporarily abandon coffee cultivation and turn to sugar production.
Natural disasters are a global challenge that requires coordinated international cooperation. It is crucially important that as a society we operate together not only on prevention methods, that are being actively developed by The UN as part of Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 13, which contains not only an action list on Climate Change and Atmosphere related goals but as well whole 9 goals in regard to Small Island Developing States) but also response methods to which each and everyone can contribute and make the change visible.
Such challenges led to the evolution of the Caribbean’s storm response strategy as many Caribbean islands came together to develop plans and build resilience to the extreme weather events that sometimes occur in the region.
During the aftermath of a catastrophic storm, even in developed societies, emergency conditions can last for months on end. However, with newly established response politics it is more than realistic to minimise the time it takes to go back to usual living conditions.