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Cuba has been hit very badly by Hurricane Irma. « It's a huge disaster. It has affected virtually the entire island. », reports Caritas aid worker Karin Mathis. « Everywhere, there is cleaning-up work going on, and people are helping each other. I spoke with some people who were taken unawares by the water and have lost everything. Caritas Cuba began immediately to provide emergency aid, targeting the most needy families with children and older relatives, and providing them with hot meals. Emergency aid is closely coordinated with local authorities. The situation is particularly precarious in the most badly affected rural regions, which are difficult to reach. » These include in particular the provinces of Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara and Sancti Spíritus. Emergency aid is rendered more difficult by disruption of the power supply across widespread parts of the country.
Caritas Switzerland, working jointly with Cuban Caritas, has launched an emergency aid programme, distributing basic food items (rice, cooking oil, cereals, meat) plus drinking water, soap, detergents, matches and candles to 5000 families. The items are purchased in provinces that were largely spared from Hurricane Irma. Priority is given to distribution in rural and remote areas, as it is more difficult for them to get access to emergency aid.
In numerous poor districts all over the island, Caritas Cuba is also running small midday kitchens, providing meals to elderly, solitary persons and poor families with children. On the very first day after the hurricane, the kitchens were already serving warm meals to local residents.
The emergency aid is aimed at poor families who have several children and elderly or handicapped family members, also at single mothers with small or several children, and elderly and disabled people who otherwise cannot fend for themselves.
Haiti was hit too
Fortunately, the direst of forecasts for Haiti did not materialise. Although Hurricane Irma did strike the poorest country in the Caribbean, there were no deaths. Floods though, especially on the north coast caused serious damage to agriculture and people's dwellings. This has made the food situation even more worrying than it already was before. The Caritas Switzerland team, working jointly with Caritas Cap-Haitienne, has launched an emergency aid and survival programme to support 1500 families in restoring their destroyed agricultural land by providing them with sowing seeds for beans and vegetables. In addition, the peasant farmer families learn methods of composting and natural pest control. Furthermore, as a measure to help prevent the spread of cholera, Caritas provides the families with chlorine tablets for purification of drinking water, and runs hygiene courses. 25 schools are receiving soap and water filters, so that the pupils can drink clean water.
Haiti is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, which in 2016 had caused more than 500 deaths and widespread damage.