Located in the “hurricane belt” and surrounded by several tectonic plates, the Caribbean region is regularly battered by disasters. The annual hurricane season sees extreme storms affecting thousands of people. The Caribbean is also prone to droughts, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, landslides, mudslides, earthquakes, and recurrent epidemics, including cholera, zika, and dengue.
Despite significant advances on strengthening disaster management systems, gaps persist in disaster preparedness, response capacity, regional coordination, protection and inclusion of vulnerable groups. Moreover, increasing displacement trends exacerbate challenges in this vulnerable region, particularly those triggered by crises in Venezuela and Haiti. The protection of displaced and migrant populations is a priority.
Continuously exposed to multiple geo-climatic hazards, the Caribbean is also affected by extreme droughts. This specific vulnerability requires both disaster preparedness programmes and humanitarian relief interventions. Additionally, due to the intensity of past hurricanes, and following prolonged droughts, capacities to respond to slow-onset disasters have been eroded.
Socioeconomic challenges such as high population density, fast demographic and urbanisation growth, high inequality and poverty rates, and lack of resources exacerbate the region’s vulnerability and test coping capacities when disasters strike. Displacement is also increasing in the Caribbean.
Since 1994, the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) have provided €178 million in humanitarian aid to the Caribbean. In addition, €48.5 million were committed to disaster preparedness projects.
Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas in September 2019 causing significant damage across the country. As a response, €500,000 were released through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) This funding supported The Bahamian Red Cross in delivering the much-needed relief – including access to temporary shelters, water, sanitation and hygiene promotion to minimise diseases.
Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the Netherlands deployed 2 ships, ships with a combined crew of 550 Dutch, 50 French and 50 German marines that worked on relief operations. Two EU oil spill experts deployed to Grand Bahama and Luxembourg sent 2 technicians to re-establish communications.
In September 2017, after category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall on the Caribbean islands, the European Commission funded €8 million to provide temporary shelters, safe drinking water, health, sanitation services and food aid to Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St Maarten, and Turks & Caicos.
A joint EU response strategy to rebuild after the hurricanes, linking relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD/NEXUS) is in place between the Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Development Cooperation departments. This joint action plan has the aim of linking emergency relief and longer-term development interventions, helping to strengthen the ability of the most vulnerable populations to cope with disasters.
The 2017 hurricane season followed severe weather hazards that have plagued the region in recent years, including tropical storm Erika, which battered Dominica in August 2015, and an extreme drought that has affected more than 6.2 million people in Caribbean countries since 2015 (a consequence of the El Niño weather phenomenon).
In 2019, the EU has allocated €3 million for disaster preparedness in the Caribbean as well as €0.3 million to assist the tornado-affected population in Havana, Cuba through its ‘Small Scale’ emergency response mechanism and €80,000 to fund the DREF of the IFRC in response to the Dengue outbreak in the Dominican Republic.