Located in the “hurricane belt”, and surrounded by several tectonic plates, the Caribbean region is regularly struck by natural hazards. 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).
Socioeconomic challenges such as high population density, fast demographic growth, high inequality, poverty rates, and lack of resources exacerbate the Caribbean’s vulnerability and test coping capacities in the case of a disaster.
The extreme hurricane season at the end of 2017 caused havoc across the region and caused large humanitarian needs, some of which are still unmet (notably in the shelter sector). Tropical Cyclones Irma and Maria – both category 5, maximum strength hurricanes – devastated Dominica, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda; they also severely affected Turks & Caicos, St Kitts & Nevis, Sint Maarten and Saint Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, leaving millions destitute.
Besides being continuously exposed to multiple geo-climatic hazards, the Caribbean is also affected by severe drought. This specific situation requires a combination of both disaster preparedness and humanitarian relief actions. The protection of displaced and migrant populations is also necessary in some countries.
Since 1994, the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) have provided €555.5 million in humanitarian aid to the Caribbean.
Of this, €388.3 million has been allocated to Haiti. The Commission has funded programmes against the ongoing cholera epidemic and recurrent food insecurity by providing shelter, safe drinking water, healthcare, food assistance, protection, livelihood assistance, and access to water and sanitation.
Over the same period of time, €167.2 million has been allocated to humanitarian emergencies throughout the rest of the Caribbean. In total, €61 million has been committed to disaster-preparedness activities in the region since 1994. The European Commission focuses on linking emergency relief and longer term development interventions, helping to build the resilience of the most vulnerable populations.
After category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall in the Caribbean in September 2017, the European Commission allocated about €8 million through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to provide temporary shelters, safe drinking water, health and sanitation services and food aid to Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St Maarten, and Turks & Caicos.
The 2017 hurricane season followed severe weather phenomena that have plagued the region for the past years, including tropical storm Erika, which battered Dominica in August 2015, and an extreme drought that has affected over 6.2 million people in Caribbean countries since 2015, as a consequence of the El Niño weather phenomenon.
For 2015 to 2017, the Commission funded response interventions worth €14 million in Haiti (€12.2 million), the Dominican Republic (€1.1 million), and Cuba (€700 000) to mitigate the impact of the drought on people’s livelihoods, food security, nutritional status and health.
Through its DIPECHO programme, the European Commission allocated another €14.1 million for disaster preparedness across the Caribbean for the period 2015 to 2017. Some of the funded projects included promoting early warning systems, strengthening health infrastructure, retro-fitting shelters and school facilities to withstand disasters and improving awareness of the risks linked to natural hazards..
For 2018 to 2019, an additional €12.3 million is allocated for disaster preparedness, out of which €5 million will go to Haiti.