Magazine article UN Chronicle

Hugo: A Case Study

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Hugo: A Case Study

Article excerpt

On 16 September 1989, the most powerful hurricane of the twentieth century struck the Eastern Carribean, blowing furiously over the region's seas and terrain at speeds of over 150 miles per hour. Surprisingly, only 14 people were killed, although property damage and other losses totalled some $365 million.

Today, disaster specialists cite Hurricane Hugo as a case study of a successful regional disaster response that emphasizes improved coordination of activities on sectoral and local, rather than national levels. This response is based on an interdisciplinary approach linking disaster reduction with sustainable development activities. That means working closely with grass roots organizations and small communities to determine who will do what in an emergency, and basing mitigation efforts on available local resources, rather than depending on outside help.

"What we have found is that if the local people are given information about disasters, they can do a tremendous amount to help themselves", said Franklin MacDonald, Project Manager for the model Pan-Caribbean Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Project (PCDPPP). "It's amazing how extremely resourceful and creative people can be. After so many years, their coping mechanisms are well developed."

The Project, based in Antigua, was originally begun in 1981 as a short-term (18 months) programme managed by UNDRO, in collaboration with the League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (LRCS) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which is the regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization. Its primary goals were to support the development of national and regional preparedness policies and legislation to strengthen the response of island States to the seasonal threat of hurricanes and other hazards.

During the pilot phase, it became evident that the cyclical pattern of regional destruction and disruption of activities caused by hurricanes required inter-island coordination that did not exist. For this reason, the project was extended to address the longer-term needs of the region.

One problem was the discrepancy in the capacity and resources of the 29 PCDPPP member States to respond to disaster. Some islands had national emergency evacuation plans; others had a single school-house or hospital to serve as shelter during a natural calamity. If such single facilities were destroyed, loss of life would be greater. Hence, disaster preparedness meant shoring up facilities and creating institutional structures capable of coping with period volcanic eruptions and seasonal hurricanes.

"The linkage to development is critical", Mr. MacDonald said in a recent interview. "I think most economic pundits are in agreement that they haven't sufficiently taken that into account. Considering that every 10 years we can expect to have a hurricane, even the economic planners are now seeing disaster preparedness as a part of environment assessment."

Project teams worked with local architects and city planners to assess housing vulnerability and possible shelter needs on each island as a first step in building institutions for national disaster management. Another step was working with local governments to prepare emergency evacuation and action scenarios. Educational and audio-visual materials were produced and distributed with local input from affected communities.

"We followed the CBO (community-based organization) and NGO (non-governmental org at the community level because you have to find out what people want and need if you expect them to participate", explained Mr. …

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