Extremely active season, three to six major hurricanes expected. In early August, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revised its outlook for the hurricane season, predicting 19-25 named storms, with 7-11 becoming hurricanes, including 3-6 major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale). The season is currently on pace to become the most active ever, already producing 26 named storms, including three major hurricanes, which is more than double the long-term average of 12 for an entire season.1 In fact, the season has been so active that the US National Hurricane Center resorted to using the Greek alphabet for only the second time in history after the number of storms exceeded regular naming conventions. Despite 2020’s frantic pace, there has fortunately been an absence of major hurricane impacts so far, but some weaker storms have still considerably affected countries across the Caribbean.
Trend shows increase in the intensity of extreme weather events. Storms impacting the Caribbean are becoming increasingly more powerful, producing increased rainfall and higher storm surge. The 2017 hurricane season, the fifth most active season on record, featured 17 named storms and multiple Category 5 hurricanes. 2 Two major hurricanes, Irma and Maria, wreaked havoc on Caribbean islands that year, affecting millions of people and causing major damages and losses as well as significant human casualties. In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian became the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record to directly impact a landmass when it violently struck the northwestern islands of The Bahamas.3 Both the increased frequency and intensity of storms in the region mean less time for recovery between disaster events for affected governments and populations.
Ongoing efforts to achieve operational readiness. OCHA Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC) and UN agencies continue to actively work with the humanitarian community, key national and international partners as well as the main coordination actors at the country and regional levels to enhance operational readiness. OCHA ROLAC is producing information products for governments and international responders and delivering virtual information and training sessions to support partners, Resident Coordinator Offices and UN Country Teams in their preparation for the peak of the hurricane season. In doing so, efforts are being made to ensure the incorporation of lessons learned from the 2017 and 2019 hurricane seasons in order to address gaps in preparedness and to reinforce coordination mechanisms for improved response readiness.
OCHA continues to support the Regional Response Mechanism. Following the destruction brought by the 2017 hurricane season, OCHA ROLAC embarked on a capacity building process with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) through a Caribbean preparedness project funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. In a series of workshops carried out in CDEMA’s sub-hubs (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago), OCHA ROLAC worked closely with CDEMA and national counterparts to strengthen joint assessments, coordination and information management to enhance the response capacity of the Regional Response Mechanism (RRM). OCHA will continue to bolster the capacity of the RRM and, when activated, provide support to CDEMA’s Regional Coordination Centre in accordance with the principles, procedures and protocols agreed to by CDEMA and OCHA.
Emergency preparedness and response in times of COVID-19. Governments across the region have implemented physical distancing and lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, greatly complicating preparedness actions and creating a dynamic response environment, as countries brace for the brunt of a potential two-tier crisis. Given that the COVID-19 emergency is overlapping with the hurricane season, regional coordination structures and mechanisms must be adapted to the new operating environment in order to effectively support national preparedness and response efforts, ensuring alignment, complementarity and coordination with the ongoing national and regional response to COVID-19. UN Country Teams in Barbados, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica have developed COVID-19 response plans to respond to the growing humanitarian needs created by the pandemic. In addition, CDEMA has implemented a preparedness and response plan to support its Participating States, including the establishment of the Integrated Regional Logistics Hub in Barbados, with the support of the World Food Programme (WFP), to facilitate the distribution of personal protective equipment, testing kits and relief items.
COVID-19 exacerbates socio-economic vulnerability and increases humanitarian needs. The COVID-19 crisis has had a significant impact on economic and social life in the Caribbean. The restrictive measures implemented across the region to contain the spread of the virus have greatly exacerbated the socio-economic situation, leading to increased unemployment, growing gender-based violence and protection risks and the disruption of supply chains which threaten food security. In many cases, government assistance channeled through national social security schemes has failed to reach the most vulnerable who depend on the informal sector for their jobs and livelihoods.5As a result, the COVID-19 crisis has significantly increased poverty and inequality across the region, which could potentially deteriorate the fragile security situation in some countries and add an extra layer of complexity to response and recovery efforts in the region.
UN response contingent upon national policy. OCHA ROLAC, UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations are prepared to respond to an emergency in the Caribbean in support of national response efforts. However, international surge capacity and remote support will largely depend on government policies on the acceptance of international assistance in the context of COVID-19. Upon request from governments, OCHA is prepared to mobilize context-appropriate response support through remote assistance and the deployment of response teams, including UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) and the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).
COVID-19 operating environment provides opportunity to strengthen humanitarian-development collaboration. To build back better and strengthen the resilience of governments and communities to withstand the impact of crises and disasters, early alignment and joint planning of humanitarian and development efforts have proven helpful. This is especially important during the 2020 hurricane season given the multidimensional impacts of COVID-19 in the region, which threaten to reverse the hard-earned development gains of the past decade and exacerbate socio-economic vulnerability, while at the same time diminishing the resilience of communities to recover from disasters. COVID-19 not only presents an exceptional challenge but also a unique opportunity to strengthen collaboration between development, health and humanitarian partners in the region. Accordingly, preparedness and response efforts should include active participation of development actors and health entities in order to ensure that early recovery and health considerations are integrated into planning efforts for a more effective and efficient response.
The UN supports national and regional organizations and structures to ensure effective and efficient response. An effective and efficient humanitarian response depends on robust in-country response capacity and strong local structures and organizations, including local non-governmental organizations and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, to support government efforts to deliver appropriate, efficient and timely humanitarian assistance to affected populations. At the national level, under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinator (RC), the UN aims to strengthen the capacities of national and local organizations to prepare for and respond to crises. At the regional level, together with CDEMA, efforts are aimed at improving readiness and response across the Caribbean region through shared preparedness standards and response protocols as well as through strengthening the RRM. To help bolster these efforts, OCHA ROLAC established a Humanitarian Advisory Team in Barbados to support the UN RC in strengthening localized readiness and response capacities in the highly vulnerable Eastern Caribbean.