by Marta López Fesser
Hurricane Matthew was the strongest recorded storm ever to hit the province of Guantanamo, Cuba. When a weather event of this scale unleashes its full force, protecting the life of each child is a huge challenge that requires meticulous preparation.
In the case of Cuba, careful disaster planning paid off. There was no loss of human life and material damage was kept to a minimum, allowing the affected communities to focus on recovery and to coordinate a rapid return to the classroom for all school students.
GUANTANAMO, Cuba, 20 April 2017 – Cuba is under the permanent threat of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and drought, and is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The country’s policies prioritize disaster risk reduction and environmental education, with particular emphasis on creating a culture of prevention among its youngest citizens.
Their first experience of finding themselves in the path of a hurricane was very different for the children of Guantanamo Province, but they all agree on the main lesson: prevention is better than cure.
“I think we weren’t so afraid because we already knew what was coming. We’d been following it on TV and radio during the information stage, and when it arrived we were ready, we knew we were safe,” says Enmanuel, 11, a student at Routney Coutin Primary School in the city of Baracoa.
“My parents sent me to my grandpa’s house to look after him because he’s old and lives alone, while they stayed at home with my little sister. Whenever water started coming in because of the wind and the rain, we got out the mop; a hurricane is really powerful and noisy, it’s very big. Of course we were afraid: afraid of losing our loved ones or our friends,” Enmanuel admits. “We were scared something would happen…”
Enmanuel’s classmate Brenda, 11, and her family were given shelter at the school because their home did not meet the requirements to withstand a hurricane. The school had been designated as an evacuation centre by the civil defence organization.
“I was with my family, and we took our most valuable possessions with us. I had my mobile phone and my tablet in my backpack because they would be really difficult to replace,” she says. “The head teacher of the school told us there were more than 2,000 people in the school in the morning when Matthew was due to make landfall… It was really bad, it was just destroying everything, it was devastating.”
Recovering homes and schools
During the night and early morning of 4 to 5 October, around 150,000 people lost their personal possessions as the hurricane damaged more than 42,000 homes across Guantanamo Province. Nearly 90 per cent of the houses in Baracoa were affected.
Hurricane Matthew also affected more than 290 educational centres in Guantanamo Province, with 96 per cent of schools and nurseries in Baracoa district sustaining damage.
One of the top priorities for the…