Five months after category 5 hurricane Irma passed by Barbuda, destroying or damaging 90% of the island’s infrastructures, the population, entirely evacuated into neighboring island Antigua, is still waiting to return to their homes.
Since the hurricane, about a 20 percent of the 1,800 original inhabitants have returned to Barbuda, where water, electricity and shelter are still limited. Some of the returned families came back straight after the hurricane even knowing that their houses could be probably uninhabitable. Others prefer to stay for some more time in Antigua, both at government shelters or at family houses until situation gets better and they can resume their normal lives.
But live is gradually getting back to normal in Barbuda. The schools have reopened, one of them with more than 60 students attending pre-school, primary and secondary education, and some shops are daily opened with food provision. Barbudans believe that community mobilization is the cornerstone to rebuild the island. Keke, the glass repairer, Ruth, the proud grand-mother, Skyler, the entrepreneur kid, are some of these Barbudans that day to day struggle to recover their lives.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) together with the Antigua & Barbuda Red Cross, are currently working on health, shelter, psychosocial support and cash transfers programmes to support returned population to rebuild their damaged houses and livelihoods. Learn more about IFRC´s Irma response operation here.
Rebuilding phase has started. In order to ensure affected population of Barbuda receive appropriate support, the Red Cross launched a Cash Transfer Programme intended to assist some of the Barbuda communities affected to rebuild their damaged households.
Ruth is 61 and Oakland 71 years old. Together they have 9 children and 32 grand-children. Only one of their daughters is currently living with them in Barbuda. “They don´t have a place to stay here, even a tent, so they prefer to remain in Antigua”, says Ruth. Although Ruth´s house has a new roof, it is not yet habitable. “I think some Barbudans in Antigua want to come back but don´t want to live in a tent, I understand…” says Ruth. “Anyway, I am here. I can do more here than being there. To move on, we have to be here”.
Vernon, Barbudan in his seventies, is concerned about next hurricane season. He already experienced Hurricane Dog in 1950, considered the most severe on record in Antigua, he knows about the importance of social mobilization to rebuild the island. “Global warming is real. Hurricanes are stronger and stronger and next season is around the corner, we need to do something.” Although he is worried about the future of the island, he smiles optimistically. He wishes that, little by little, Barbuda is rebuild and life gets back to normal.
Skyler is 12 years old and returned to Barbuda on November. “Life is good here, I am home”, he said. Just some days ago, he went back to school in Barbuda. “We have pencils, books and we study math, English, visual arts, IT and agriculture.” Skyler wants to have his own business to support kids. “I want to tell children not to give up.” Skyler also wants to be an NBA player in the future. He is optimistic and loves his island. He sends a message for his peers in Antigua: “Barbuda is still there for you!”
After the hurricane, fishermen community were deeply affected. Norman is one of the fishermen that got his boat damaged. “I have been diving since 1964, I used to wake up and go to the sea to fish grouper, red snapper, barracuda, and some other little fish. I tried to fix the boat by myself but I cannot leave it overnight, it would sink.” Antigua & Barbuda Red Cross currently works with the Fishing Livelihood Recovery Program, which supports fishermen to repair their damaged boats and replacing their fishing equipment.
Community participation and accountability is crucial in the recovery phase. Devon, President of Fishermen Association, has born and grown in Barbuda. He came back to the island two days after the hurricane. He knows well every fisherman, their fishing techniques, their stories and their attachment to the sea. He has been a key piece in the mediation between different partners and Barbuda community along the implementation of the Fishing Livelihood Recovery Program. “It is important that our fishermen can be productive again and, hopefully, even improve their lives before the next hurricane season”.
Schooling in Barbuda has restarted. 62 students are already receiving primary and secondary education thanks to the work of around 13 teachers. This will enable returned families to slowly get back to normal and encourage displaced residents to return. Cutting school year represents one of the main reasons why many Barbudan families in Antigua don´t want to go back yet.
“I never left Barbuda. I was here during the hurricane”, says Keke. “People come to me to repair their windows. I work day and night, especially at night when its calm and I turn my generator on and listen to radio”. Besides the great efforts that Keke is doing to help his own community to rebuild their houses, he would like to become a Red Cross volunteer to accelerate Barbuda recovery. “Rebuilding is very slow, to me. That´s why people don´t want to come. It is difficult to get some materials, some of them comes from Miami.”