SALT Reflection: Preparing for Hurricane Season
In September of 2017, I had just arrived in Haiti. I was adjusting to everything—the language, the food, the relentless heat—when I started hearing reports that a massive hurricane was making its way across the Atlantic, heading straight for the Caribbean archipelago. Thus began one of my first new rituals in my new home: the hourly refresh of the National Hurricane Center's storm tracker. Hurricane Irma was creeping across the Atlantic, enormous, slow-moving, menacing, like a shadowy monster in a horror movie. I had no idea what to expect.
In the end, we in Haiti were lucky. Irma passed north of the island, sparing Haiti the kind of damage experienced after 2016's Hurricane Matthew. When the howling wind and the sound of the rain on my colleague's tin roof made it too loud to hear each other, we went to bed and slept soundly through the cool stormy night. But others were not so lucky. Irma was a category 5 storm, the strongest ever seen in the Atlantic basin. It slammed into the Caribbean on September 6 and did catastrophic damage to small islands like Antigua and Barbuda, St Martin, Anguilla, and the US and British Virgin Islands, as well as Puerto Rico, Cuba, and, eventually, Florida. Even in Haiti, which didn't sustain a direct hit, heavy rains resulted in flash floods and mudslides in several departments. And as disastrous as Irma would have been on its own, just weeks later another category 5 storm, Hurricane Maria, swept across the Caribbean and brought islands like Dominica and Puerto Rico to their knees.
June 1st marks the official beginning of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting a normal to above-normal hurricane season, but as climate change warms the Atlantic and gives rise to stronger and more damaging storms, we might need to adjust our understanding of what "normal" means.
At the MCC office in Haiti, we are getting ready for the hurricane season by pre-positioning material aid so we can respond quickly with comforters, relief buckets, water treatment tablets and canned meat if and when disaster strikes. In the commune of Lachappelle, Haiti, heavy rains during Hurricane Irma destroyed houses and gardens in a matter of hours. Because these material aid supplies were ready and waiting at our Port-au-Prince office, MCC was able to distribute relief to residents within 48 hours of the storm. Afterwards, MCC implemented a long-term response to support residents in rebuilding their gardens, which are the primary source of income for most households in the area. In the months before the rebuilt gardens were ready for harvest, we provided project participants with supplemental food assistance, locally purchased rice, beans, cornmeal, and vegetable oil.
June 1st also marks the day I move into my new home. I came to Haiti as a SALTer on a one-year term, but have decided to take on a new position as Advocacy and Communications Coordinator, which means I'll be spending two more hurricane seasons in Haiti (sorry Mom and Dad). So far, my preparation has been limited to buying a lot of tropical plants for my new house, including the beautiful and popular monstera deliciosa, which some people call "the hurricane plant." The plant evolved in hurricane-prone Central America; it's speculated that the deep cuts and holes in the large leaves make it more resistant to extreme weather, and less likely to tear. For me, my pretty monstera is an example of hope and resilience. By supporting people as they adapt to changing conditions, we hope that the next time disaster strikes, although we may tremble in the wind, ultimately we'll be able to weather the storm.
Revisit our coverage of Hurricane Irma
Due to a high number of natural disasters and conflicts around the world, MCC's disaster response fund is stretched thin. Donations to this fund will be used to help people in crisis situations around the world, including in Haiti.