10th September 2017
Hurricane Irma batters Cuba
News that Hurricane Irma has reached Cuba has meant that BBC reportage has had to include the island in its assessment of the impact of the hurricane in the Caribbean. The progress of the storm to date has focused upon the impact upon Barbuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands and the potential impact upon mainland USA, in particular Florida.
Cuba is vulnerable to hurricanes and its government is famously well-prepared. Even the United Nations once praised Cuba as a “model in Hurricane risk management” in 2004. Jacobin Magazine notes that only 35 Cubans have died from the last 17 hurricanes. Last year’s Hurricane Matthew did not kill anyone in Cuba, although it killed 271 people in nearby Haiti.
As the New York Times noted in 2013, the National Prognostic Centre of Cuba’s Meteorological Institute in Havana is responsible for monitoring the weather there. Before President Barack Obama resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba, hurricane preparedness was one of the few things American and Cuban officials worked together on.
Despite an older infrastructure, its hurricane preparedness plans that are taught to children in schools have saved countless lives. Children are even taught to identify at-risk trees and hazards in their neighbourhoods. During a storm, schools, hospitals and hotels become members of the Cuban Civil Defence force and are responsible for caring for residents.
The Cuban government issues a seven days warning, during which time local communities are given ample opportunity to prepare for the worst.
Local leaders are the protagonists of disaster warning processes based on constant drilling, which takes place under the rubric of “risk-reduction” in every province, city, town and village.
These constant drills are coupled with an integrated response from local fire departments, health, transportation and other vital public services. Above all, Cuba places tremendous emphasis on educating the population to keep communities and families, particularly the most vulnerable, safe.
While Cuban preparation places less emphasis upon evacuation, but rather focuses on “protection,” which includes reinforcing a local school capable of accommodating local communities and pets, the force of Hurricane Irma means that some evacuation measures have been necessary. Sources from Cuba Solidarity Campaign suggest that one million Cubans have been moved to temporary shelter or higher ground for safety.
The Cuban National Defense Council for Disaster Reduction recognises that sea penetration, strong winds and rain will affect the electrical supply in affected territories. To prevent any distribution to the service, the Cuban Electric Union (UEC) has set up 25 emergency towers to distribute electricity.
The UEC has formed 155 brigades, composed of 1,066 electricity workers, who will be distributed among the most affected provinces.
“The contingents are ready to go out and work on the quick solution of any difficulties that may arise,” noted Jorge Hernández, senior civil defense specialist at the UEC.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health, in conjunction with the Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries Group, has organized 67 medical-surgical brigades to ensure medical assistance in difficult-to-access communities, officials reported.
This Ministry has also relocated 177 health system units (pharmacies, clinics, etc.) to solid and safe institutions in the affected territories.
Unlike the people of Texas and Louisiana affected by tropical storm Harvey, all of whom must apply for federal aid, Cubans, despite the country’s vastly inferior economic resources, do not feel as though they will be abandoned “no matter what,” nor subjected to market-driven price gouging of vital supplies as witnessed in Texas .
The Cuban approach to prevention policies demonstrate a thoughtful insight into the sheer power of nature and the impact of climate change. The U.S. philosophy of disaster relief, on the other hand, is more of an afterthought.
In 2005, Cuba, which has suffered over half century of a U.S. economic blockade, offered to send 1,500 medical professionals from the Henry Reeves Brigade to help the people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The former U.S. President George W. Bush, swiftly rejected the offer.
Keep up to date with developments at