The 2017 hurricane season was an extremely active and costly one as unprecedented number of people were displaced as a result of the devastation. On September 6th, 2017 Irma, a category 5 hurricane, hit Barbuda and destroyed or damaged most of the buildings on the island. With the threat of Hurricane Jose following soon after, all two thousand residents had to be evacuated to Antigua. Twelve days later, Hurricane Maria, another category 5 hurricane, caused significant damage to Dominica which was cut off from the rest of the world for two days as all communications in the country went down. These two storms caused catastrophic damage in a number of islands in the Caribbean including Anguilla, the Virgin Islands, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Puerto Rico. There were also numerous fatalities resulting from these hurricanes.

“Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked unprecedented havoc on the lives, livelihood and social capital in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica. Unfortunately, climate scientists point to phenomena such as these as features of the ‘new normal’ in the future, and with the footnote that they will bring added uncertainty”, said the Head of the Country Cluster Support Team of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Josephine Shields-Recass.

However, over the last year (IFRC) along with Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica Red Cross have worked very hard to assist the residents of these islands in their recovery from this disaster.

Recass went on to say, “We are extremely grateful for their expressions of confidence, which allowed us to provide needed goods, services and hope in the face of the significant adversity that was occasioned by these hurricanes. We are also grateful for the many professional and community members who lent their skills and energies in supporting us to implement our respective plans action from day one, to the end of year one. It has been a major achievement, and one of which I am extremely proud and humbled.”

Barbudans have started returning despite the fact that at this time the island remains without electricity. The Operations Team of the IFRC has provided four hundred households in Barbuda with cash via a Cash Transfer Programme as well as assisted two hundred and fifty home owners to repair their homes. The Shelter Recovery Programme was a unique one that has never been done before as the logistics proved to be quite a challenge as everything had to be transported from Antigua.

Brennan Banks, IFRC Operations Manager in Barbuda, indicated that “We have experienced many very unique challenges and obstacles on this humanitarian operations. However, the Red Cross has found innovative ways to support the affected community and be advocates for Barbudans in a way that has exceeded my expectations. One year later, I can say that Red Cross has delivered meaningful assistance that has directly and indirectly reached every Barbudan and has been a key partner in the recovery process for Barbuda.”

He hopes that “Barbudans can return to a community that still reflects the unique culture and way of life Barbuda is known for. We want Barbuda to also enhance its preparedness for future disasters and continue to strengthen its resilience in a manner that complements and protects this beautiful paradise.”

There was also a Livelihoods Programme through which thirty-one fishermen were assisted with repairs to their boats which were damaged or destroyed. An additional forty-one fishermen were provided with upgraded fishing kites to replace their lost equipment.

In Dominica, the situation was a little different, as this island has a significantly greater population of around seventy-three thousand people. Here, 1,949 people were supported through a Cash Transfer Programme. The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion team provided 955,000 litres of water to 1,498 households and relief distributions have reached 8,719 households. There was also a Shelter Recovery Programme, where more resilient roofs are being constructed, that is still ongoing. According to the IFRC Dominica Operations Manager, James Jones, “Thousands of families were assisted during the emergency phase, through relief distributions of non-food items and whole towns and communities were provided with Red Cross purified water services, until municipal systems could be repaired and put back into service. A crowning achievement during the emergency and recovery phase was the ATM card cash transfer program (CTP). Over a six month period, the program provided approximately one million dollars in immediate needs cash assistance to nearly 2,000 most vulnerable households in Dominica. This was the largest scale CTP program to date in the Americas Region.”

Despite the fact that a lot has been achieved in the recovery efforts of both Barbuda and Dominica there still remains a lot to be done. There is still the lack of infrastructure, services and necessities on Barbuda even though residents have started returning. There are many who are without shelter as their homes were completely destroyed. In Dominica there is also a need for more funding as thirty percent of houses that were assessed cannot be supported owing to a limited funds. Jones indicated that, “The impact of Hurricane Maria affected the entire population of Dominica and spared no one. This was the most intense Hurricane to hit Dominica in 40 years and full recovery will take some time. However, a great deal of progress has been made over the past year, as response operations have shifted from direct emergency relief to medium and longer-term recovery activities. People`s needs for food, clean water and basic shelter have been met, although much more work needs to be done on household roof repair, so that these communities will be more resilient and better prepared for the next storm season. We need to build back stronger!”

One year later, in the midst of what is shaping up to be another active hurricane season, some islands in the Caribbean will never be same. However, while it may take them some time to recover from the destruction wrought on them by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, they are working hard on becoming more resilient to these hydro-meteorological event. They are also building capacity as residents are being trained not only in hygiene and first aid but in carpentry as well. This augurs well for the future as improved construction methods and an increased skills bank will mean less damage to buildings and an enhanced ability for repairs. Therefore, by utilizing better construction methods, developing their capacity and simply not giving up in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, they are embodying the mantra of ‘build back stronger’.