- Sustainable Communities
- Building Back Better
- Hurricane Maria
- Hurricane Irma
- disaster risk management
- Climate Change
- Latin America & Caribbean
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- St. Lucia
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- Dominican Republic
- Cayman Islands
- Bahamas, The
- Antigua and Barbuda
View of a hurricane/ Photo: iStock
Co-authors: Michael Fedak, Guillermo Donoso, Curtis Barrett, Keren Charles and Kerri Whittington Cox
“June; too soon. July; standby. August; come it must. September; remember. October; all over”. This Caribbean nursery rhyme warns of the impending hurricane season and lets families know that it is time to start preparing for potential disasters.
But are hydrometeorological (“hydromet”) services adequately prepared?
As May 31st comes around yet again, I’m reminded of this date 48 years ago. The peaceful South American country of Peru was going about another normal day… until the clock struck 3:23 pm. Life changed in the blink of an eye, as an 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Peruvian regions of Ancash and La Libertad. It was an unimaginable catastrophe.
The town of Yungay, in Ancash, was almost flattened in just 45 seconds — the earthquake smashed homes, schools, and public infrastructure. The shock of the quake destabilized glaciers on the mountain known as Huascaran, located 15 km east of Yungay, causing millions of cubic meters of rock, ice, and snow to come tearing down at high speeds towards Yungay. Within minutes, the city was buried, along with almost 25,000 of its residents, many of whom had run to church to pray after the earthquake.
This “Great Peruvian Earthquake” of 1970 is a landmark in the history of natural disasters. The overall toll was around 74,000 people dead; about 25,600 people declared missing; 43,000 injured; and many more were left homeless, including thousands of children. Only 350 people survived in Yungay — they had climbed to the town’s elevated cemetery, a curious case of the living seeking refuge among the dead. Elsewhere, a circus clown saved 300 children by taking them to a local stadium.
Disaster risk management is a priority for many countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.
Landing in Port-au-Prince awakens your senses. Exiting the airplane, you are re-energized by the explosion of colors, the welcoming smiles, and the warm weather – particularly when coming from a cold January in Washington, D.C. Loud honking, a high density of houses and buildings, and streets bustling with pedestrians and small informal businesses are all evidence of the rapid urbanization process in Haiti.
As soon as you land, the challenges of the city are evident; Port-au-Prince expands to the ocean on flat plains exposed to flooding and quickly rises on steep hills with challenging access and risks of landslides and flash floods. The reconstruction efforts after the earthquake in 2010 are still ongoing, and many of the houses seem to be hanging from the sky, perched on steep slopes. If you look at the houses from afar they appear as a single skyscraper, as distance makes the houses seem as if they are built on top of the one another. These false skyscrapers are highly exposed to landslides, flooding and earthquakes.
Imagine you live in a city that floods, sometime for weeks, after extreme rainfalls.
Imagine you live in that flooded city, where you and thousands of your neighbors must find a place to stay till the water has receded, and you finally can get back home, with the fear of finding it devastated.
The city of Trinidad is a place like this, located in Bolivia’s Amazonian low-lands, and with heavy prolonged precipitation, rivers, lagoons and lakes rise, affecting thousands of families.
Overall in Bolivia, 43% of the population lives in areas of high flood risk. Trinidad and other cities in the low-lands experience inundations, while in La Paz, Bolivia’s political center, frequent landslides lead to fatalities and damage to housing and infrastructure.
When you think of Peru, the first city that usually comes to mind is Lima. Why? Well, because Lima is the largest city in the country, with close to 50% of the nation’s urban population living in the metropolitan area; the city also produces 45% of Peru’s GDP. While this level of concentration of population and economic activity may not be a good or bad thing, it points to some imbalances in the urban system in Peru.
The world’s third most affected country in terms of climatic events, Haiti seeks to better manage natural hazards to improve resilience
Haiti is highly vulnerable to natural hazards. Situated within the north Atlantic hurricane belt, andsat on top of the boundary between the Caribbean and North American plates, the risks are constant. However, this does not mean that disasters are inevitable.