Due to the destruction caused by hurricanes Maria and Irma, which swept through the Caribbean islands of the Lesser Antilles in less than 15 days, the international community rapidly deployed humanitarian aid contingents to the countries affected. The international response focused primarily on Dominica, where the eye of Hurricane Maria, a Category-4 storm, affected 80 percent of the country’s population.
“We’ve lost everything,” the prime minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, said upon making his international humanitarian aid request on September 19th. “We are going to need all manner of assistance.”
One week earlier, that same part of the Caribbean had been hit by Hurricane Irma, a Category-5 storm. As the second major hurricane in September, Maria caused more than 30 deaths: 15 in Dominica; 13 in Puerto Rico; three in Haiti, and two in Guadalupe.
A United Nations (UN) disaster assessment team estimated that some 65,000 people on Dominica were impacted by Maria. Additionally, a report published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs indicated that 100 percent of the island’s agriculture had been destroyed. The country needs food, water, emergency shelters, roads, bridges, and new infrastructure, the UN noted.
Amid the devastation, neighboring partner nations, the United States, and international organizations quickly responded with food, water, medicine, ships, and planes. The Dominican Air Force assisted with transporting the injured to hospitals in the Dominican Republic. This cooperation was achieved through coordination with the Pan-American Health Organization. The Dominican Navy (ARD, per its Spanish acronym) also participated in the aid effort with naval units. “These humanitarian aid operations have become consolidated thanks to the logistics provided by the [Dominican] government for making deployments throughout the Caribbean — in this case, to the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands,” Vice Admiral Miguel Enrique Peña Acosta, the chief of ARD, told Diálogo.
Other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member nations assisted these islands as well. Neighboring Antigua and Barbuda, through its state and private communications media, provided a critical connection between the residents of Dominica and the rest of the world, CARICOM reported.
Barbados responded rapidly with two Coast Guard boats for ferrying in technical staff and supplies. The vessels set sail loaded with water and emergency humanitarian aid supplies, as well as with medical personnel to assist with health services.
The government of Trinidad and Tobago assisted with helicopters to send emergency personnel and equipment to remote areas in order to rescue the injured, assess the damage to the island, and provide emergency services. The Trinidadian government also suspended its immigration regulations for residents of Dominica for a six-month period.
Granada, Santa Lucia, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago deployed police contingents to the island in order to bolster security during Dominica’s recovery period. In turn, Guyana cooperated by sending medical and personal hygiene supplies dispatched on a British C-130 military transport plane. It also transported 10 containers with construction materials to the affected islands.
This aid was bolstered by assistance from international organizations such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which extended aid through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), with support from U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands (JTF-LI). CDEMA deployed more than 360 specialized units in search and rescue, damage assessment, emergency response coordination, and needs analysis to Dominica in order to bolster the aid efforts, the agency reported.
For its part, the U.S. Department of Defense joined forces to activate JTF-LI with approximately 300 service members assigned to SOUTHCOM, as well as eight helicopters, four C-130 Hercules aircraft, and the naval ship USNS Spearhead, in support of the response efforts undertaken by USAID/OFDA. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) brought in approximately 10 metric tons of high-energy foods on a ship to the eastern Caribbean island, to aid some 25,000 people over a three-month period. WFP has set up mobile storage units due to the lack of storage facilities for the incoming humanitarian aid, and it is also assisting with logistics and air support services. An emergency telecommunications team has connected more than 400 users, such as airports, hospitals, and the Dominican Emergency Operations Center.
The UN Humanitarian Air Service provided support to humanitarian aid workers and government workers in Dominica and throughout the region. The UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Panama sent in ships and electric power generators
Nations including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and the European Union distributed aid to assist the national authorities of the affected Caribbean countries in providing aid to their populations. The United States has airlifted in more than 45 metric tons of critical supplies to Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Martin.
“International aid has always played a crucial role during large-scale crises caused by natural disasters like this. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that Dominica is dealing with an urgent situation,” Daniel Pou, a defense and security analyst in the Dominican Republic, told Diálogo. “It will be a long time before this island bounces back.”
Rebuilding a country
The government of Dominica has expressed gratitude for the international aid received. “We have many allies,” prime minister Skerrit said. “Thanks for helping my people. Without you, our partner nations, it would not have been possible to get past the first phase of this emergency.”
Dominica called upon countries with military capabilities to lend equipment for search and rescue and rebuilding. “We need to rebuild a nation. And we can’t do it alone,” prime minister Skerrit told the UN General Assembly.
According to Pou, the great nations of the world have a key role in these kinds of contingencies. Through their armed forces, they have the organization, training, and logistical resources needed to aid partner nations in need.
On September 20th, the UN made an urgent request to the international community for $31 million to help with the island’s early recovery efforts over the next three months. “The impact is horrible. This implies huge levels of investment,” Pou added.
“Dominica’s partner nation militaries are assisting by sending in qualified workers, relying on the capacities of their various forces, which can provide humanitarian aid and assist with logistics and rebuilding,” Vice Adm. Peña added. “As our first order of business, we need to focus on reestablishing ground, air, and maritime communication systems.”