Cuba In The Wake of Irma
By: Patrick Koster
Cuba has a lot to be proud of.
A rich culture; dense in history and the arts, an incredible literacy rate, a bustling tourist industry, and, most importantly given its location, excellent disaster preparedness.
Yet, when this year’s hurricane season hit, as ready as the largest-populated Caribbean island seemed, nothing could prepare them for the ongoing aftermath.
Hurricane Irma, the strongest reported hurricane in the Atlantic, barreled its way through Cuba. Taking 10 lives along with it in early September, the storm is the deadliest Cuba has experienced since Hurricane Dennis in 2005.
Irma, along with three other successive hurricanes hit the Caribbean, leaving Cuba in need of serious help. The United Nations News Centre reported on Tuesday, September 19 that the United Nations launched an action plan requiring $55.8 million to address the immediate needs of over 2 million people affected by Irma.
“In Cuba, initial assessments found that a number of critical areas have been severely affected, including housing, access to potable water and electric power services, health and education institutions, roads and telecommunications,” the UN report stated.
On September 2, four days later, the News Centre reported that Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, urged the international community to prioritize Caribbean-affected areas and mobilize resources to assist. Parrilla also went on to criticize U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America first” views in times of global challenges while maintaining hope for better coexistence and respect between the U.S. and Cuba.
An article published by USA Today reported that the U.S. quickly aided surrounding Caribbean territories after Irma — except Cuba.
“The U.S. State department clearly recognized the extent of the disaster, warning American travelers not to visit Cuba because of the wide-spread destruction. Yet it has not sent a USAID rapid response team to the island, nor dispatched any U.S. military ships loaded with bottled water and blankets, as it has to other devastated Caribbean neighbors,” wrote Doug Stanglin of USA Today. “The guidelines for U.S. assistance include a requirement, not surprising, that a host country must request help, which Cuba — a proud adversary in a decades long battle with its superpower neighbor — is not inclined to do.”
Multiple reports say that Cuban tourism hasn’t fully recovered, some stating it may take several months. Reason for this may be the crumbling Cuban infrastructure, due to pre-existing conditions combined with the aftermath of this year’s natural disasters, as well as the extent of flooding on the tourist coastline.
The UN News Centre reported on September 27 that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has ramped up its humanitarian efforts in affected areas.
“Children in Latin America and the Caribbean have faced several natural disasters of epic proportions in September,” Grant Leaity, UNICEF Deputy Director of Emergency Programmes told the News Centre. “With four successive hurricanes – including Hurricane Irma, the largest ever recorded over the Atlantic – and two major earthquakes in Mexico, the past few weeks have been relentless,” the UN report stated.
Tropical Storm Ophelia is currently forming in the Atlantic Ocean, although it is reported by multiple sources that it does not appear to be a threat on land.