Battered Grenada prepares for upcoming hurricane season

Published: 13 April 2005 0:00 CET

Allison Ali

Shirlane Joseph was just one of the many people left without a home in Grenada after hurricane Ivan ripped through the Caribbean in September last year.

Since then the unemployed 36-year-old mother of three young children has been seeking shelter from the blazing sun and sometimes torrential rains with neighbours and nearby relatives.

But very soon, Joseph will once again have a home to call her own.

The Grenada Red Cross (GRC) is currently working with the French and British Red Cross Societies on a project to help people rebuild their homes.

This started earlier this year following a galvanized roofing project where the Red Cross provided aluzinc roofing, ridge caps and tools to over 1,000 vulnerable families in six parishes in Grenada.

Hurricane Ivan ripped through the Caribbean last September with a destructive force unseen in the region in the last ten years. Dubbed ‘Ivan the Terrible’, the hurricane wreaked havoc in the tiny islands of Grenada, Tobago, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands before making its way to Cuba and Florida.

The islands that suffered the most damage were Grenada, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. The hurricane moved through the region for more than a week, damaging homes, buildings and infrastructure, cutting off utilities and caused at least 100 deaths.

Many people were placed at risk from disease, contaminated drinking water and food shortages. In some areas, flood waters washed away small communities. The economic impact on these countries is huge. Grenada suffered the most with 90 per cent of its housing stock being destroyed, leaving 60,000 homeless.

“I lost everything in the hurricane. My children have not been able to go to school since because all their uniforms, school books - everything - were destroyed. I am so glad that I will soon be able to get a house. I can start to put my life back in order now,” said Joseph, one of many hurricane-affected people being assisted by the Red Cross in this retrofitting exercise, which is funded by the European Union’s Humanitarian office, ECHO.

Tracey Reines, the International Federation Team Leader in Grenada said even though the Federation is winding down its operations, it is still working closely with the Grenada Red Cross, as well as the French and British Red Cross Societies, to implement the eight-month roof repair and retrofitting project, which aims to assist 100 vulnerable home owners.

Reines explained that the home owners will be identified among those physically unable to rebuild their roof, and who remain in extremely poor housing conditions. The project will also provide training and material assistance to 500 home owners to ensure their homes meet hurricane safety standards involving retrofitting, wood and the strengthening of walls and foundations.

These 600 households will also be part of the community based disaster preparedness projects.

The British Red Cross has also started a livelihoods project which seeks to distribute agricultural materials to 450 small-scale farmers, to re-establish household food security and stabilize prices in the local food economy.

“Under this project 450 farmers from St George’s, St Andrew’s and St Mark’s parishes were selected taking into consideration factors such as economic vulnerability, land size, the extent of damage to property and access to income and employment opportunities,” explained Reines.

Cuthbert John, 56, is one of the recipients in this project. “After the hurricane all the jobs closed down and we do not have work anymore. I’m really glad to help plant some food for myself and my neighbours.”

Terry Charles, GRC Director General said even though they were finished with the emergency phase of the operation they were still working on other different programmes which are all aimed at assisting the most vulnerable in society and preparing communities for the upcoming hurricane season.

“Even though Grenada is more or less back on its feet there are some rural villages with no utilities. There are still a lot of people living in deplorable conditions,” he said.

Charles noted that while there were many non-governmental agencies on the island to assist people with their homes, the focus was more on repair than rebuilding. “The GRC, French and British Red Cross were focusing on rebuilding. We desperately want people to have a home before this year’s hurricane season.”

Charles said the GRC was also focusing on introducing a number of disaster preparedness programmes in many of the communities on the island. They are also trying to reintroduce some of their existing programmes such as HIV/AIDS, First Aid, and Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA).

“We want to sensitise the public on what the Red Cross is all about while at the same time emphasizing disaster preparedness at a community level. We are also looking at strengthening our volunteer base.”

The GRC is also working with the Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) to replenish its disaster stocks. It will also be introducing its Psychosocial Support Programme (PSP) on a more long-term basis to assist with the emotional needs on the island.

“One of the things that we have noticed in the PSP is that volunteers are very welcome in the communities that they visit. There is still a great need for this programme on the island as many people are finding it difficult to cope with everyday life. So we are going to expand this programme while we strengthen our other programmes,” said Charles.

The GRC Director General said while much has been accomplished on the island there is still a lot of work to be done in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season. However, he is confident that they will be better prepared this time around.

“We have learnt a lot from Ivan and we are preparing ourselves in the event that there is another hurricane we will be in a better position than last year.”