It’s an irony that mere months after pulling out of the Paris Accord, America has been hit by one major hurricane with another looming. The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey was enough for Donald Trump to declare a natural emergency as more than 60 people died and thousands were endangered and displaced by the flooding in Houston.
Hurricane Irma will likely be even more catastrophic. It’s shaping to be the largest hurricane ever to hit the Caribbean with winds of 185mph (so fast they broke the measuring equipment) and a storm area the size of France. A stunning measure of just how powerful this hurricane is is that it has shown up on richter scale equipment used for measuring earthquakes! As a Category 5 it has been given the highest possible danger rating (Category 5 is the highest measure on the five-step Saffir Simpson scale used to assess the strength of hurricanes). Irma seems likely to hit Leeward islands like Barbuda and Antigua, as well as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Florida and many others. It’s thought that the Richard Branson owned Necker island is also at risk, with reports that the billionaire is on the island and planning to ride out the storm.
There is a proven link between warm oceans and hurricanes, and it’s thought that the temperature which is stirring up Irma is 1 degree warmer than usual. It’s unlikely to make Trump change his tack even though the US is one of only three countries along with Syria and Nicaragua which have not signed the accord! But the money he’s saved on Paris will surely now be spent on a fix up job in Houston. Hurricanes are a very real manifestation of the dangers posed by climate change.
Cuba, with it’s shakey infrastructure and crumbling buildings is particularly at risk from Irma, though current estimates have the hurricane grazing the north of the island. The regions of Havana and Mayabeque have been told to pay close attention to the Cuba Institute of Meteorology (INSMET) and there is a hurricane watch in effect from Matanzas to Guantanamo. While Trump has pledged support for the American entities Puerto Rico, the US Virgin islands and Florida, Cuba is low on international friends with their traditional allies Russia and Venezuela having withdrawn to deal with problems of their own.
Previous Hurricanes in Cuba
Cuba has always been at risk from Hurricanes, but as a proud nation they are used to dealing with them alone. In 2016 Cuba refused help from the US even though the East of the island had been struck by Hurricane Matthew. Baracoa, as the oldest city in Cuba, was the worst affected, with many buildings levelled as 13 foot waves hit the town. Overall four lives were lost, and that despite Cuba’s reputation for dealing with hurricane threats efficiently. Of course America has an interest in Cuba with the infamous Guantanamo Bay Naval Base based on the eastern tip of the island, and that was evacuated for the arrival of the hurricane, along with evacuation orders for the provinces of Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba. A quarter of a million people were evacuated from the latter region which suffered extensive damage when hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The situation is radically different now that the iconic Cuban leader Fidel Castro has passed away, so hopefully the international community, including America, will do the right thing to help any of the small and larger islands that get affected by this terrible act of god. When Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti last year, due to the impoverished nature of that country more than 1,000 people were killed and 1.4 million needed aid. The international community must be prepared to react swiftly and decisively to prevent further tragedies from occurring.