Eva Calvo12 June 2003
The Atlantic hurricane season officially started on 1 June, and meteorological experts are predicting that the Caribbean and Central America could witness above average levels of activity.
They forecast that the season, which lasts until then end of November, will produce up to 14 tropical storms, with six to eight of these becoming hurricanes, of which two to four may be classified as major hurricanes.
However, this year, due to the effects of the El Niño phenomenon, the hurricane season began early with the formation of Ana, only the second tropical storm on record to have formed in April.
Red Cross preparations for the hurricane season are well under way. On 23 June, representatives of 24 Central American and Caribbean national Red Cross Societies and other actors will gather for a week-long meeting in Santo Domingo.
The participants – from Red Cross Societies in Mexico, Central America and Caribbean, from the Federation’s regional delegation in Panama and its Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) and from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), Association of Caribbean states, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Ericsson – will draw up new contingency plans and define the mechanisms for cooperation between the different actors in the event of a disaster.
In most years, 80 per cent of the experts’ predictions become reality. The 2002 season, however, was not as destructive as feared: while six hurricanes were predicted, only four actually happened.
Some analysts again attributed this to El Niño, which could suppressed the formation of tropical cyclones, while being a factor in other extreme weather patterns, such as drought and floods around the world.
“We have to be prepared for the worst so that our response can be as effective as possible,” says Nelson Castaño, head of the PADRU.
Countries in the region can learn from the example of Cuba, which was hit by two hurricanes – Isidore and Lily – last year, both of which caused extensive damage to the western province of Pinar del Río. In 2001, the island was battered by hurricane Michelle, one of the strongest in recent memory.
Despite considerable material damage, not a single life was lost as a result of the hurricanes and only a small number of people were injured. That can be attributed to the rapid evacuation of the population and the efficient disaster preparedness and intervention mechanisms that Cuba has put in place.
“It showed very clearly that disaster preparedness saves lives. Investment in this kind of activity benefits everyone,” Castaño says.
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