The United Nations (U.N.) announced its plans to establish a disaster preparedness hub in the Caribbean earlier this month. Located at the international airport in Bridgetown, Barbados, the hub will support air and sea operations to accelerate responses to natural disasters in the region.
“The Caribbean islands are right on the frontlines of climate change. As hurricanes become more frequent and severe, we need to be fully prepared so that lives are saved, livelihoods are defended and hard-won development gains are protected,” said World Food Programme Chief David Beasley when announcing plans for the hub.
It’s something that’s desperately needed in a region that is notoriously hard hit by natural disasters. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions regularly have an impact on the Caribbean, making the need for a preparedness hub long overdue.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average Atlantic hurricane season has fourteen named storms (winds > 39mph), seven hurricanes (winds > 73mph), and three major hurricanes (winds > 110 mph).
Of all weather disasters, hurricanes cause the largest loss of life and have the greatest financial impacts. The average financial cost for a hurricane response is $20.5 billion.
When small islands with fragile economies are hit by multiple hurricanes in a year, the economic impact can be overwhelming. Many of the Caribbean islands rely on tourism as a large part of their economy. Hurricanes not only cause immediate damage but also deter tourism until cleanup and restoration is complete.
Further exacerbating the situation is climate change and global warming. It’s projected that in the coming century, if we are unable to mitigate the effects of climate change, Atlantic hurricanes will have higher rainfalls and greater peak wind speeds.
A supplied logistics hub in the Caribbean will reduce response and coordination times when disaster strikes.
When there is proper preparation for a disaster, the effects of that disaster are reduced substantially. It might sound like common sense, but even still it has been difficult to get funding to prepare for disasters.
U.N. data shows that between 2010-2019, of the $133 billion in disaster funds, only $5.5 billion went towards disaster preparation.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stated in a 2018 report that for every $1 spent on disaster preparedness and mitigation, it saved $6 in emergency disaster response.
The total economic cost of Hurricane Katrina is estimated to be around $180 billion. Research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that if more were invested in disaster preparedness instead of relief, the financial cost of the disaster could have been as low as $7 billion.
Having the supplies ready to go, staff trained, and transport vehicles available to dispatch when a disaster strikes, such as is being constructed in Barbados, will save money and lives.
If it’s so economical and lifesaving to be adequately prepared for a disaster rather than scrambling to coordinate help when that unfortunate moment comes, why has it been so hard to get funding for disaster preparation?
To put it bluntly, disaster prep isn’t sexy. It’s hard to justify spending money in the event that something might happen — and where you won’t see immediate results. It’ll pay off eventually, perhaps, but governments, private organizations, and individual donors want to see how their money is being put to work. They want to know they provided shelter for fifteen people or that they fed twenty hungry children.
Think about the disaster-related donations you might’ve made in the past — maybe it was for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the Haiti earthquake in 2010, or the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Whatever it was, it was likely made in response to a disaster.
It’s difficult to send money when there is no dire need, no images of suffering on our screens, and no call for help. It’s in these prior moments, however, that our dollars are most effective.
Not to mention, the massive influx of donation funds that arrive immediately after a disaster create a ton of logistical issues. Which organization should receive what amount? What should we use the money for? Which company should we buy the supplies from? All things that would be much better sorted out pre-disaster, so that the focus can be on delivering help to those that need it most.
The planned hub in Barbados is a step in the right direction to alleviating the effects of natural disasters in one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions.
Image credit via Pixabay
Andrew Kaminsky is a freelance writer with no fixed location. He travels all corners of the globe learning about the different groups that call this planet home, seeing natural wonders, and sharing laughs with the people he finds along the way. An alum of the University of Winnipeg's International Development program, Andrew is particularly interested in international relations and sustainable development. In his spare time you are likely to find Andrew engaging in anything sport-related, or finding common ground with new friends over a craft beer.