A disaster can be defined as a sudden, adverse event that disturbs the operating of a community and additionally society; initiating human, financial and environmental losses. These losses usually surpass the community’s or society’s capacity to adapt utilizing its own assets. Often its frequently caused by nature, however, disasters can have human starting points. The Caribbean region has experienced a history of disasters associated with such hazards as hurricanes, flood, earthquakes, landslides and occasionally, volcanic eruptions and drought. The term ‘Caribbean region’ as utilized in this paper alludes to the Caribbean Sea, its islands inclusive of the West Indies and the surrounding coasts (see figure 1).
The Caribbean region is “located among the most vulnerable regions in the world; in relation to the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact and face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences” (UNEP, 2005). The vulnerability of the Caribbean region is highlighted by its geographical location; high populace on the coastal zone and high percentage of tourism development existing within the same coastal zone resulting in higher risk of damage from natural hazard events (Collymore, 2008).
Hurricanes and seismic tremors are amongst the most frequent meteorological and geological hazard and is considered the most devasting yet. This is due to the potential to cause significant damages and losses in the Caribbean based on research. Hurricanes and tropical cyclones affect specific areas at separate times during the season, however, the official hurricane season extends from June 1st to November 30th. Hurricanes are described as “when the maximum sustained winds of a tropical storm reach seventy-four miles per hour (74 mph)” according to the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration.
Hurricanes consist of very strong winds and excessive amounts of rain, which can last from a few hours to a few days.
The common effects of hurricanes can be short term and long term which include: high winds, tidal flooding and heavy rainfalls which can lead to flooding and landslides. Each of these result in both social and economic impacts. An example of this is Hurricane Gilbert (1998) which was recorded as a Category 5 hurricane, when it hit Jamaica. Records show, that the storm caused hundreds of deaths and went on to cause more devastation in Mexico. Though the number of deaths was considerably low, the social and economic losses was significant. The social effects of Hurricane Gilbert include: loss of property resulting in hundreds being left homeless and the relocation of families to emergency shelters which soon became overcrowded.
There was also disturbance of social exercises (schools, work place) due to many roads being blocked. Subsequently, flooding resulted in massive food shortages which were suspected to be more damaging than the winds. Its economic losses included; over 400 million in export earnings in export and caused further disruption in the tourism and mining industry which resulted in loss of income and decreased foreign exchange earnings. Also, a high number of looting were reported and the government was forced to express its special provisions by putting the city of Kingston under curfew. Its principle financial effects caused retard growth and advancement due to damage infrastructure, loss of export goods, loss of employment and capital. The Estimated damages totalled US $800 million (Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Jamaica).
Earthquake is an intense shaking of the Earth’s surface due to the sudden release of energy in the Earth’s crust, that causes seismic waves. The impacts of earthquakes depend on several factors such as the distance from the epicentre, magnitude of the earthquake, population density, geological conditions and level of preparedness. History records display earthquakes continue to have devasting impact on the Caribbean region. It has reportedly triggered landslides and volcanic activities, occasionally. Most natural disasters can be predicted due to technological advances resulting in warnings being issued, however, earthquakes occur without forewarning which can be hazardous and the most destructive to date.
Examples of devasting earthquakes are 1692 Jamaican earthquake that struck Port Royal resulting in approximately over 5000 deaths and the 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti and resulted is approximately 160,000 deaths and damages. The 2010 Haiti Earthquake had a 7.0 magnitude leaving the nation devasted being one of the most destructive earthquakes of all time. The economic and social impact was significant. The social impacts included: loss of human life, loss of property resulting in 1.5 million persons left homeless. The repercussion of the cataclysmic event brought diseases such as Cholera which claimed the lives of several hundred persons, mainly children. Utilities such as electricity, water, gas and communications were severely damaged and some destroyed. The disruption of social activities was considerably high with 5000 schools and places of employment being damaged and demolished. The total damage was reported 7.6 billion pounds to repair and reconstruct to return to some form of normalcy.
A flood is “an accumulation or an overflow of an expanse of water that covers or inundates land that is usually dry” according to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management. Types of flooding include: Riverine, Coastal, Flash ad Urban. The causes of flooding can be due to natural and anthropogenic causes. Natural causes which contribute to flooding are prolonged and/or heavy rainfall. Deforestation, improper waste disposal and poor land use practices are amongst the causes of flood due to human activities. The impacts of flooding rely on the vulnerability of the activities which can be categorized into physical, social, economic and environmental. Flooding is most prevalent during Hurricane season in the Caribbean; with some islands being more affected than others. The impact of such event is relatively dependent on their topography and development of infrastructure practices. Hazards such as the 2005 Guyana flood and major flooding in Jamaica caused by Hurricane Sandy.
The 2005 Guyana flood was described as the most devastating flood event to occur in the island. Reports indicated the loss of lives ( 34 persons) , loss and damages of livestock and crops and it gave upsurge to illnesses such as Leptospirosis. The flood resulted in a direct plunge on the country economy which is based on the agricultural sector due to the loss and damages of crops ( Regis). Caribbean islands generally consist of areas that are volcanic in origin, however, volcanic activity occur occasionally when compared to other prevalent hazards. Volcano eruptions occurs when lava and gas are discharged from a volcanic vent. Though it occurs rarely; its damages can be severe. An example of a volcanic eruption is the Soufriere Hills volcano Montserrat, 1995. The volcano had been dormant for over 300 years before 1995 but in 1995 soon it began giving warning signs of eruption. The most intense eruption was recorded in 1997 which resulted in 20 persons being killed and large areas of Montserrat destroyed.
The damages included homes, the only hospital, airport and roads. The social and economic impacts are that of any other hazard. The unemployment increased due to the downfall of the tourism industry, and excavation and abandonment of the capital city as it was covered in layers of ash and mud . Droughts in the Caribbean region is pale in comparison to other hazards, however, 2009-2010 events revealed the vulnerability of the Caribbean region. Drought can be classified as Meteorological, Hydrologic and Agricultural drought. Droughts is defined as a timeframe without significant precipitation that endures from one year to another. Dry spells have been experienced in all climatic regions, incorporating regions with high and low rainfall. Research recorded the most severe Caribbean droughts with regards to its topographical degree, intensity and economic impact on the agriculture sector occurred in 1997-1998 and 2009-2010.
Significant reports by producers and specialist organizations relate to these two occasions. Examples of Caribbean islands that was affected by the 2009-2010 Drought are Antigua, St. Vincent, Grenada, Guyana, Dominica and Trinidad. The drought resulted in serve devastating effects on the agriculture and food sector which included; bush fires in Dominica which was recorded as 160 fires, St. Vincent and the Grenadines had a total of seven farms losing acres of crops, St. Vincent and the Grenadines tomatoes prices increased from $2.35/pound in Feb 2010 to $6.00/pound in March 2010, Fruit prices increased 60.8 percent. There were even reports of the raise of disease of Cattle in Trinidad. The Hydro power input in St. Vincent decreased from 28.68% in Feb 2009 to 12.01% in Feb 2010. The islands water resources was impacted resulting in shortage of water causing the respective governments to enforce restrictions on the use of water (Trotman, Farrell and Cox).