The natural disasters that are typically experienced in the Caribbean can have catastrophic and devastating impacts on the environment, economic development and social structure of these islands. Severe damage to the built infrastructure that has supported communities on Caribbean islands for decades can place a huge strain on economic activity. The social impacts that are experienced following natural disasters consist of homelessness, injury, suffering, sickness, disease, and even death.
This paper will introduce the major natural disasters that have affected life in the Caribbean and they include hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, flooding and tsunamis. Other than Barbados, all Windward Islands of the Caribbean are of volcanic origin. Volcanoes are ruptures in the earth’s surface that allow for the escape of lava and gas. The two types of volcanic eruptions, explosive and effusive, can both have devastating consequences on the environment and the Caribbean inhabitants.
Although not a common occurrence, several volcanic eruptions have take place on Caribbean islands. For example, an eruption on St. Vincent in 1979 left economic losses of 1 billion dollars, but fortunately no casualties. Flooding is another very impactful natural disaster that is one of the more common types of natural disasters to greatly affect CARICOM countries. Sometimes called the silent killer, flooding can greatly affect socio-economic development.
Whether it is coastal or river flooding, it has the ability to greatly damage the agricultural landscape as well as introduce water-borne disease that can lead to death in local inhabitants. There is a disproportionate vulnerability of CARICOM countries to natural disaster demonstrated by the numerous events that have occurred over the last few hundred years. The intrinsic vulnerability is due to the small size of Caribbean islands, their insularity and remoteness, and the economic, environmental and demographic factors that are associated with these islands.
Furthermore, there is limited hazard forecasting ability for several CARICOM countries. The CARICOM countries are geographically set in a location that makes them vulnerable to natural disasters. The Caribbean climate is tropical and temperatures range between approximately 24°C and 32°C throughout all islands as a whole. The prevailing trade winds along with year round sunny skies set a warm climate for CARICOM countries with both dry and wet season.
Precipitation depends on the elevation of the island and is also effected by water currents. The environmental impacts of Caribbean natural disasters are correlated with the large coastal zones on the numerous islands and the damage can vary from affecting the entire landscape or the falling on one tree. It was noted that from 1960-1989, “hurricanes in the Greater Caribbean Basin resulted in the deaths of 28,000 people, disrupted the lives of 6 million people and destroyed property worth U. S. $16 billion. All the Caribbean nations that have already faced the fury of the hurricane Sandy and have had to fight back by burying the dead, finding shelter for the homeless and counting the economic losses. Sandy moved northwards with gusts in over 110 mph destroying homes, crops and roads on its way. More than 69 people were killed in six countries. Even though Haiti was not in Sandy’s direct path, the island was greatly affected as Haiti has confirmed that 52 people have dead and a lot of people are missing. Buildings were engulfed in mudslides or swept out to sea by flood tides.
The Government in Port-au-Prince declared that about 200,000 people are homeless and only 17,000 shelters have been provided. The country has short-term fears of cholera and other water-borne disease and besides that there is also a huge food shortages because the agricultural landscape has been badly damaged by the hurricane Sandy. Smaller scale fatalities and damage were also reported in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, where seawaters surged over coastal barriers to deluge roads and buildings.
February 8th, 1843, the Eastern Caribbean was affected by the biggest ever recorded earthquake. The region from St. Maarten to Dominica experienced very intensive damages. All masonry was destroyed and the earthquake also caused a big fire that destroyed a lot of wooden structures in Antigua. The estimated number of deaths is about 4000-6000 people, which represents 1/3 of the population. This earthquake was felt as far south as Caracas and British Guiana and was even felt in Washington, which is 2000 km away.
The magnitude of this earthquake is estimated to have a range of 8. 0-8. 5. On January 12, 2010, a 7. 3 magnitude strong earthquake happened in Haiti, the capital Port-au-Prince. The World Health Organization confirmed that the Haiti earthquake resulted in 222,500 death and 196,000 more injured. The epicenter was 15 kilometers from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. According to the preliminary estimates of the International Committee of the Red Cross, this devastating earthquake will result in 3 million Haitian refugees.