Ahead of the Atlantic hurricane season, beginning June 1, Mercy Corps is helping communities in Guatemala, Haiti, and Puerto Rico prepare for what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today will be another above-average season, with 3-6 major storms predicted.
Every year, between June and November, millions of people face devastation caused by hurricanes. Raging winds and catastrophic flooding ravage food crops, destroy road infrastructure, force people to evacuate their homes, and in many cases, cause loss of life. Linked to climate change, hurricanes continue to intensify and occur more frequently, with rising ocean and land temperatures increasing the likelihood and severity of devastating storms and rising sea levels contributing to greater flooding and coastal erosion, particularly in low-lying areas.
Provash Budden, Mercy Corps' Americas Regional Director, says:
"As hurricane season approaches Latin America and the Caribbean, the second-most disaster-prone region in the world, Mercy Corps is working with at-risk communities in Haiti, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico to prepare for disasters and decrease the impacts of weather-related shocks. While response systems and planning have improved, millions of households are not yet integrated into planning and support services. Preparedness, response, and recovery must move past treating these as unpredictable singular events and instead build long-term resilience to intensifying seasonal hazards and their underlying causes. We aim to connect marginalized communities with better information, preparedness, and protection of their assets to adapt to the changing environment around them."
In Puerto Rico, Mercy Corps teams will reach more than a million people by the end of June with community preparedness information, including essential guidance on what to do before, during, and after storms and how to assemble a home hurricane kit. Mercy Corps will also provide training, advocacy tools, home checklists, and community risk mapping tools. A new campaign will focus on mobilizing community members to support people with disabilities or other mobility challenges, and the elderly.
Mercy Corps teams in Guatemala are also working to help communities prepare for hurricane season and other natural disasters. In the department of Alta Verapaz, where 4,954 people were temporarily displaced after the 2020 Eta/Iota tropical storms, Mercy Corps teams have equipped two temporary shelters with access to water and basic sanitation, toilets, showers, and waste management. In case of emergency, the two shelters will be able to host up to 200 families and 900 individuals. In Guatemala, Mercy Corps also collaborates with Colorado State University and Guatemala's national meteorological institute to provide weather and climate data in Alta Verapaz and Quiche, helping 2,574 farmers access vital weather alerts, learn when poor growing conditions are more likely to occur, and adjust farming practices to minimize losses.
Ligia Ixmucane Blanco Lopes, Mercy Corps' Guatemala Country Representative, says:
"Farmers take on significant risk growing rain-fed crops in Guatemala. Shifts in climate patterns, prolonged drought, and other extreme climate events have devastated smallholder agriculture in recent years. With better seasonal (3-6 months) and sub-seasonal (2-6 weeks) climate forecasts, farmers have been able to improve their harvest."
In Haiti, Mercy Corps sends SMS alerts to Haitian families to help them prepare for the hurricane season with disaster preparedness messages, including information regarding shelter locations, where to meet family if separated, how to protect homes, and keep important documents safe. Launched in 2018, the SMS platform has already reached 58,743 callers, including at-risk populations living in isolated communities with no access to smartphones and the internet.
Mercy Corps has mounted a humanitarian response to nearly every major hurricane in recent years, including Hurricanes Iota and Eta in Guatemala (2020), Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico (2017), Hurricane Matthew in Haiti (2016), and Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas (2019).