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Pandemic makes 2020 a very different hurricane season

Published:Friday | June 12, 2020 | 12:19 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is shaping up to be one with a significant difference from other years, with regional countries already reeling from a prolonged drought, as well as the economic fallout from the global pandemic COVID-19.

Among the new realities being dictated for the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), a regional disaster response entity, is the likelihood of delays in the deployment of its search support teams to affected countries, according to acting executive director, Elizabeth Riley.

“We have emphasised to our countries the need to ramp up their national-level readiness so they are in a position to handle the immediate aftermath of the event, with the understanding that our teams would come in possibly a little bit late, based on the protocol,” she told a recent conference on the region’s preparedness for the hurricane season.

In fact, a definition of the protocols and guidelines to prevent or mitigate the human-to-human transmission of COVID-19, while delivering support to member states, dominated the agenda at earlier meetings, Riley shared. These discussions were in keeping with the political commitment to regional solidarity, and also addressed the matter of borders and how search support teams interface at this level, she added.

“I think the key messages is that we have agreed as partners on a policy of ‘do no harm’. So our external partners – military and non-military – fully appreciate at this time that we want to ensure that they are taking the necessary measures with respect to ensuring that we are not exposing populations who are at benefit from search support to any additional risks from COVID-19. Similarly, we want to ensure that those providing support, whether from the region or externally, are also protected from contracting COVID-19, as we deliver our support. So this is at the forefront of our minds.”

Another new reality brought on by COVID-19 is the reduced number of persons who can be accommodated at established shelters because of the need to observe social distancing. Riley spoke to the fundamental change that this will drive at the regional level, which is the principle of ‘home as shelter’.


“We want to ensure that we are able to alleviate pressure on existing shelters to the extent possible. So persons are encouraged to shelter at home, once the home facility is safe, but also to explore sheltering with family and friends because this will alleviate some of the general pressures,” Riley explained.

She noted that all countries are in the process of looking at additional options for shelter, which means that they have to not only identify new facilities, but also undertaking the requisite assessment of these facilities.