FRONTLINE OBSERVATIONS FROM THE 2017 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) backgrounder on the North Atlantic Hurricane Season says the "season officially runs from 1 June to 30 November, [with] the vast majority of tropical storms are typically seen during August-October (ASO)." Late summer and early autumn is the peak period for intense storm systems. Over a thirty year period from "1981 to 2010, Atlantic hurricane seasons averaged 12.1 named storms."
The 2017 season still has more than two months to run its course and it is already above average in storm activity. The storms began off-season in late April, and NOAA's data is accurate to the end of August showing only 9 named systems. Since then there have been 5 more, bringing the total to 14 named systems, 7 hurricanes, and 4 of them being major, meaning they are between Category 3 and 5.
This year's storms have left devastation in the Caribbean and United States, and reports estimate the damage to be more than $132 billion. To get a sense of what is happening on the ground we spoke with Khin-Sandi Lwin, a Representative of UNICEF in the Eastern Caribbean Area.
Lwin walked us through the situation starting with Hurricane Irma which made landfall in Barbuda on September 5. She said that when it "made landfall, it basically decimated Barbuda." Lwin added that "it levelled most of the buildings making the island uninhabitable."
The devastation touched French, Dutch, and Independent islands, UNICEF in the Eastern Caribbean is only active in the English-speaking Caribbean and Lwin could only speak to the situation in those territories. Irma also ravaged Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands areas where UNICEF is active.
The British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos are chains of islands and Lwin said that "there are differing degrees of damage," from one to the next. She added that the is "differing degrees of damage as you go from neighbourhood to the next."
The devastation in the wake of the hurricanes is impacted by the fact that people have no access to water. Lwin said "water is a basic need, [though] we can't carry it in so we provide water purification tablets, water tanks that can be filled by the relief system, and collapsible water containers."
There have been difficulties getting the relief supplies to those who need it. Lwin said that the one place where they "have been successful is in the Turks and Caicos Islands." She explained that "it has been very difficult, we had hurricane Jose right after Irma even though it went north in the Atlantic the seas were very rough." Just getting people deployed was a challenge.
This week Hurricane Maria ravaged Dominica and Lwin said that there is between "70 and 72 thousand people there so a major response is needed." She added that "some parts of the island is literally in shambles." They are deploying similar water supplies to Dominica, as well as non-water related itemsl. Lwin went down the list of items "tarpaulins, family hygiene kits, and blankets."
These items are only the first response, UNICEF is also "working with the authorities where people are in shelters," Lwin explained. She added that "usually shelters are in schools, what we are hearing from Dominica is roofs were blown off, even the shelters were affected."
"Right now it is difficult to make plans, so we are making assumptions about the percentage of the population affected and ordering the supplies accordingly." -Khin-Sandi Lwin - UNICEF, Eastern Caribbean
Yesterday, "one day after the hurricane hit, we sent in whatever [supplies] we had repositioned here in Barbados," Lwin said. The shipment included rehydration salts and tents. UNICEF was aided by the Barbados Coast Guard "who were offering free [shipping] space" Lwin said.
UNICEF is past the first response stage in Barbuda. Lwin explained that the entire population of the small island "was evacuated to Antigua." They are "working with the children of Antigua and Barbuda on what is called a Return to Happiness Program." Lwin said that the program helps children "with trauma through psycho-social support using games, songs, and art."
UNICEF is "working with the local Ministry of Education to get children back to school," she said. She added that "depending on the damage the tents that were sent could either be for schools or shelter." The plan is to get secondary students back in class first.
Lwin said that UNICEF also helps during the recovery with a "social safety net if people don't have insurance or a means of income they need financial support." UNICEF does not give money though they are "working with governments to design cash transfer programs," Lwin explained.
Being that the focus is children we asked how the children were coping in the aftermath of the hurricanes. Lwin explained that she was "in one of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods in Turks and Caicos, that's where houses have been flattened." Lwin said, "there is a lot of care and resilience, on the surface children are playing and want to go back to school, though the trauma is underneath." Children have written about the night of the storm and Lwin said it was "pretty scary."
Lwin explained that "there are people on the island that are trained in psychology," the problem is that they are living in a crisis as well.
The people in the Eastern Caribbean have been battered by what Mother Nature has thrown at them and are in the early process of recovering. They need help and support and if you do want to lend a hand Lwin explained the best way to do so is by supporting churches and organizations already on the ground financially. In many areas, the infrastructure is not there to receive large amounts of shipments. The devastation is vast and Lwin said "it will take years to rebuild".