The Caribbean has experienced the worst Hurricane season in years. On 6 September, Hurricane Irma – the most powerful hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic – hit Antigua and Barbuda, then continuing to wreak havoc across Saint Barthélemy, Sint Maarten/St. Martin, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas and Cuba. A category-5 hurricane with averaged maximum sustained winds of 295 km/h, Irma caused 35 deaths, as well as long-lasting damage to infrastructure, houses and basic supplies. Up to 90 per cent of infrastructure was destroyed on some of the islands. An estimated 20,000 children have been affected throughout the region and 17,000 people were in immediate need of shelter. In total, some 265,000 people are estimated to have been affected across the region.
ESB’s Field Coordination Support Section worked closely with Member States, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and OCHA’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean and pre-deployed several UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams to Barbados, Jamaica and Haiti in order to re-deploy them to the most severely affected areas as soon as the Hurricane had passed. UNDAC members supported rapid needs assessment, information management and response coordination in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten, and Turks and Caicos Islands.
Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage and destruction in Puerto Rico and Dominica, one of the poorest countries in the Eastern Caribbean. The entire population suffered direct damage to housing and livelihoods. In response, UNDAC members were re-deployed to Dominica from the Irma response, and operational support partners were mobilized to bolster the team, such as MapAction and the Americas Support Team. UNDAC members are still managing logistics, administration and finances in Dominica at the moment. With the response moving to the long-term recovery, the UNDAC teams managed to support and strengthen regional and national actors and certainly made a difference in the coordination of the international response to both hurricanes.