Hurricane Sandy: the world’s newest silent disaster?

Published: 20 November 2012

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Sandy tore through the Caribbean, communities are facing the challenge of a long recovery. Teams of staff and volunteers from national Red Cross societies have continued to work alongside local authorities to provide relief to those affected by the storm. As assessments continue, there is concern for the number of homes and families affected.

In Cuba, the storm is estimated to have had an indirect impact on 3 million people, and 1 million were directly affected in Holguin, Guantanamo and Santiago provinces. Many families that lost their homes are staying with friends or relatives in houses that may also have been damaged, representing a very real risk to life and health. Therefore roofing to repair damaged homes is a high priority. Although many of the water systems in Cuba have been fixed, concerns remain over water safety. With 500,000 people in need of access to safe water, there is need for home treatment solutions.

Much of the Island’s main crop sugar cane was also lost, which has a serious impact on food security and livelihoods which means medium-term support for livelihoods will be vital in the recovery effort. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), through its Regional Logistics Unit, has mobilized relief items for 5,000 families. Lucia Lasso, Disaster Management delegate said the situation here is of particularly concern. “Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba and it has been the most affected, and although electricity and communications have been re-established there is still a long road ahead,” she said.

The rain has continued in Haiti, compounding the effects of Hurricane Sandy where 21,500 homes were flooded, damaged or destroyed. In response, the Haiti Red Cross Society assisted with the evacuation of 18,000 people from flooded homes.

Several cholera treatment facilities were also damaged and as November 7, over 12,000 cases of cholera have been reported since October. Unless the treatment capacity is restored and interventions for early detection and early referral of cholera patients are scaled up, the consequences of an outbreak can be disastrous. Food insecurity is also a risk here with 1.5 million people potentially affected due to the loss of agricultural production.

The Haiti Red Cross Society is providing assistance through pre-positioned stocks, and also carrying out cholera prevention and control activities, psychosocial support and violence prevention. As it has been the case in past response operations the Dominican Republic Red Cross has mobilized to support the establishment of a water distribution team in Haiti.

Jamaica also experienced heavy rains last week. Recent assessments suggest that 215,850 families have been affected by the storms. However, assessments are ongoing and this figure may rise. Anna Beloff Disaster Management Delegate supporting the operation in Jamaica said said that, while shelters had closed, there were still pressing needs in areas of the country. “In the parish of Portland, Port Maria was severely flooded and families sheltered under tarpaulins close to their destroyed or damaged homes have had to face the secondary hazards of these rains.”

Like other countries in the region, Jamaica has also experienced a catastrophic loss of food crops and the potential for the spread of waterborne diseases. The Jamaica Red Cross, together with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, is carrying out relief distributions from pre-positioned stocks, and is undertaking hygiene promotion activities.

Jan Gelfand, IFRC Head of Operations for the Americas Zone, said the recovery process for the region was going to be long and challenging. “It is for this reason that we are particularly concerned for these operations because if we do not work together to raise awareness and cover the appeals we have launched, the effects of Hurricane Sandy run the risk of becoming the world’s newest silent disaster.” To support the operations in Cuba an appeal for 12 million Swiss francs (12.7 million US dollars) was launched but to date has only received 19 per cent coverage. In Haiti the 7.5 million Swiss francs (7.9 million US dollars) appeal has received 10 per cent coverage, and in Jamaica the 1.2 million Swiss francs (1.3 million US dollars) appeal has received 30 per cent coverage­.

For more information please contact: Enrique Guevara, Communication officer, + 507 6670 7365 France Hurtubise, Communication officer, +509 3170 9813

The IFRC is continuing to call on its partners and all those able to support these operations to contribute to the coverage of the appeals and stop these disasters from being forgotten. These funds will enable the National Societies in Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica reach those most in need.