(CMC) — The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F Etienne has called on the authorities in the Caribbean to be fully prepared for the 2021 hurricane season.
Dr Etienne warned that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the potential devastation of high winds and flooding make preparation even more critical than usual.
“We must safeguard our countries and territories against the dual threat of COVID-19 and the hurricane season. We must ensure that health services are fully operational to save lives and protect the well-being of populations before, during and after hurricanes,” Dr Etienne said.
“We must also make sure that emergency care, hospitalisation, ICU (Intensive Care Unit) beds, laboratories, and quarantine and isolation centres are protected and functional,” she added.
The Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1, with forecasters predicting a 60 per cent chance of above-normal activity. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast is for 13 to 20 named storms, including six to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes.
PAHO said it is working to provide emergency supplies, and assist in securing critical facilities in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
PAHO said it will hold a preparedness meeting on Thursday with representatives from the disaster coordination agencies of all countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean.
The online meeting to identify resources and adjust preparedness and readiness plans will include panellists from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), NOAA´s National Hurricane Center, the Coordination Center for Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America (CEPREDENAC) and the Ministry of Health of Guatemala.
PAHO said late last month it met with disaster management officials from seven Central American countries and the Dominican Republic to analyse the main disaster risk reduction needs.
Dr Etienne urged officials, particularly those in the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and northern South America to update national hurricane response plans, and conduct simulation exercises.
She said countries should refine evacuation plans, taking into consideration additional measures for physical distancing and extra hygiene and sanitation in shelters.
The Dominican-born PAHO director urged countries to strengthen health care services by ensuring that surge staff and essential supplies and protective equipment will be readily available when needed.
She said these measures and actions are especially important for countries and territories still suffering the consequences of the highly destructive 2020 hurricane season.
“Hurricanes ETA and IOTA in 2020 affected 9.9 million people and did considerable damage to medical infrastructure especially in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Colombia,” said Dr Ciro Ugarte, PAHO’s Director of Health Emergencies
“Between last year’s storms and the ongoing pandemic, preparedness and risk reduction activities are more critical than ever.”
In the past few weeks, PAHO said most countries in Central America have reported surges in COVID-19 cases, adding that many Caribbean countries and territories have also reported spikes.