PAHO Warns About Hurricane Preparedness Amid COVID-19By Rodrigo Brugada | Thu, 06/10/2021 - 19:35
The Atlantic hurricane season started on June 1 and will last through November 30. Those that are more at risk of being affected by hurricanes have also been more vulnerable to the effects from other crises.
This year, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted an above-normal hurricane season, with about 13 to 30 named storms, of which three to five could be major hurricanes. Hurricanes can cause substantial damage to infrastructure and properties near coastlines. They are usually accompanied by heavy rains on areas further inland, potentially creating floods and landslides. In Mexico, the states most often affected by hurricanes are those with a coastline in the Atlantic Ocean, though their effects can spread nationwide.
For this reason, PAHO’s Director, Carissa Etienne, urged countries to revise current contingency plans and to ensure that, should plans require so, changes be made to ensure adequate preparedness and readiness. Ciro Ugarte, PAHO’s Director of Health Emergencies, stated that last year hurricanes Eta and Iota affected 9.9 million people and considerably damaged medical infrastructure.
Just like last year, Latin America is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases just as the hurricane season is starting. However, this year, stay-at-home regulations and the usual preventive measures are not the only pandemic response that may be stifled. Currently, vaccines are playing an essential role as a part of the relief measures but extreme weather conditions may slow down or even halt efforts in vaccine distribution. Like last year, most affected individuals will probably be people living in precarious or otherwise socially vulnerable positions.
As demonstrated by the current pandemic, these previously existing conditions make any kind of disaster fall disproportionately on people living in poverty, women and indigenous communities, among many others. Not only are most of the potentially affected people vulnerable to be further harmed but they are also experiencing disproportionate effects from other crises and, as stated by Oxfam, chief among those is climate change.
Hurricanes represent a highly complex topic. While preparedness is crucial on a local level, preventive measures are paramount. In the case of hurricanes, this prevention must come as international collaboration to ensure preparedness. It also needs to come as efforts to reduce precipitating factors such as climate change, a potential culprit in making these storms more intense. Between the storms and the ongoing pandemic, preparedness and risk reduction activities are now more critical than ever.