Hurricane Irma: Regional Response Plan for the Caribbean Region (September to December 2017)
This three-month Regional Response Plan covers the urgent needs of the most vulnerable populations affected by the impact of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean region in early September 2017. It has been developed with the support of national and regional disaster management entities, in particular the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and is based on preliminary indications from multiple assessments carried out so far under CDEMA’s coordination leadership. The plan requires a total of US$ 15.1 million to address the most urgent needs of up to an estimated 265,000 affected people until December 2017. The Plan will support the regional effort to respond to the most urgent needs such as reestablishing health and education services, ensuring access to safe water and sanitation, outbreak prevention and control, providing shelter and coordination services. In addition, some US$ 11.9 million are required for complex logistics and communications support.
The Plan focuses on the most impacted nations, territories and states of the Caribbean. However, while Haiti did not receive the full brunt of the hurricane, additional humanitarian needs have been identified which will need to be covered through the current Humanitarian Response Plan for Haiti, for which funding is still needed. For Cuba a specific Action Plan is being developed given the devastation wrought there.
Devastation and extensive breakdown of essential services has followed in the path of Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricane ever recorded over the Atlantic. A Category 5 hurricane as of 5 September, Irma wrought havoc on many of the Caribbean islands with maximum sustained winds of 296 km/h bringing heavy rains and causing deadly waves. Those winds lasted for 37 hours, making Irma the longest lived storm of that intensity anywhere around the globe for at least the past 50 years, according to the United Kingdom Met Office.
The most severely affected areas include Anguilla, Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, Saint Barthélemy and Turks and Caicos Islands. At least 35 people have reportedly lost their lives as of 12 September. However, the relatively limited loss of life can in part be attributed to robust preparedness measures taken by national and local authorities before the hurricane made landfall. Severe damage to housing, infrastructure, basic services such as health centres, telecommunication, electricity, water, sewage and waste systems, and agricultural land has been reported.
A remote analysis conducted by the Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) of the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) on 11 September estimates that around 169,000 people and 75,000 buildings were exposed to wind speeds higher than 252 km/h per hour. Wind forces of that strength destroy a high-percentage of well-constructed homes causing total roof failure and wall collapse making residential areas uninhabitable for weeks or months. Another 57,000 thousand people and 11,500 buildings are estimated to have been exposed to wind forces stronger than 209 km/h or equivalent to a Hurricane Category 4. Wind speeds of that strength cause severe damage to well-built framed houses and uprooting most trees and power poles.
In total, an estimated 5.5 million people were exposed to extreme winds higher than 120 km/h, which is equivalent to Category 1 storms or higher. Winds of that strength can destroy poorly constructed buildings and cause extensive damage to infrastructure and livelihoods. While not yet quantifiable, the impact on tourism, fishery and agriculture is severe. Most road networks, although small on most islands, have also been interrupted by the storm surge floods and fallen trees.
Across the Caribbean it is estimated that 17,000 people will need immediate shelter assistance. The island of Barbuda in Antigua and Barbuda has been rendered uninhabitable with the entire population of approximately 1,600 evacuated to Antigua, while one person was killed. In Barbuda, health concerns have also arisen because of the large numbers of animal carcasses in the flood waters. In the territory of Anguilla, significant damage to water supply and electricity has been reported and one person has been killed. According to the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the British Red Cross (BRC), hospitals and the island’s main port in Sandy Ground are now operational. In the British Virgin Islands, five fatalities have been reported by the National Emergency Operations Centre. Sewage in the streets has been identified as a health risk, and incidents of looting reported.