By Hler Gudjonsson IFRC
“Irma destroyed my boat, my home and my restaurant, all at the same time,” said 45 years old Arthur Walter, one of 32 fishermen on the island of Barbuda who have received cash assistance from the Red Cross for restoring their fishing boats.
Early September 2017, as hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean, most homes on Barbuda were either badly damaged or completely shattered. Most businesses and infrastructure were also destroyed, including the fisheries, which are the economic foundation of this small community comprised of about 450 households.
Immediately after the disaster the IFRC launched an emergency operation to assist the National Society in providing emergency relief to the population of Barbuda after their evacuation to Antigua. In the recovery phase, one of the focus of the operation has been assisting fishermen in rebuilding their livelihoods.
“My big fiberglass boat was thrown on land in the storm surge, and the bridge and the console were broken off and destroyed,” said Arthur who has spent a lifetime establishing himself as one of the main fishermen on the island, only to see Irma take everything away.
From the time when he was able to salvage his two damaged 250 horsepower outboard engines he has been working long hours on the repairs, struggling to collect enough funds to purchase expensive spare parts. “The money that was provided by the Red Cross has helped me enormously,” said Arthur who also qualified for cash assistance for boat repair. “The amount was not enough to restore my big boat, so in the short term I concentrated on repairing my little wooden boat which requires much less investment. Even if it is very basic, it takes me to sea, and now at least I am able to earn a living.”
The force of hurricane Irma was beyond what any of the fishermen had expected, and despite the strong measures taken to prevent damage, the extreme wind and storm surge tore up and destroyed even boats that had been fastened down far inland.
“This boat was ready to be launched before the hurricane, I renovated it myself and the work had already been completed when the hurricane,” said 48 years old fisherman Henry Punter, another beneficiary of the Red Cross boat repair project. His 28 foot vessel was thrown on its side by the wind and he has spent the past months repairing it. “I am putting big concrete pillars into the ground so I can strap my boat down properly next time there is a hurricane warning.”
Henry also lost his fish traps and most of his other fishing gear. “Fortunately the Red Cross is providing us with new equipment, so as soon as I have finished the repairs I am back at sea.” Henry is one of 72 fishermen on Barbuda receiving fishing and diving equipment from the Red Cross after losing their gear in the hurricane.
Not only the fisheries were affected by Irma. When part-time farmer and tour-guide Shiraz Hopkins returned home to Barbuda he found that all his fences and pens had been destroyed by hurricane. “When at last I was able to return from Antigua to Barbuda after the disaster I found that all my sheep had been killed by roaming dogs. I lost all 86 heads,” said Shiraz. His little boat was also badly damaged, but with the money from the Red Cross he has almost finished the repairs. “Until I have rebuilt my farm and, until the tourists start coming again, fishing will provide the income I need to support my family.”