Caribbean Hurricane Relief Initiative
After launching our initial response to Hurricane Irma, we were cautiously standing by, watching Hurricane Maria’s rapid increase in power, elevating it from a Category 1 hurricane to a Category 5. With much discussion amongst our internal team, we collectively decided that the best course of action was for our teams to remain in St. Croix and Puerto Rico to ride out the storms — which would enable us to rapidly respond to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and reach at-risk populations as soon as possible.
Our teams fared well through the storm, but many of the islands that were impacted by the first hurricane were further devastated by the second. The countries most impacted by Hurricane Maria were Dominica, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico. However, that is not to say the neighboring islands did not feel similar power.
Jon Rose, Ben Bourgeois, Jimmy Wilson and W4W Haiti Country Director, Fritz Pierre-Louis, were on St. Croix during the storm. With both of their hotel rooms compromised - falling ceilings followed by flooding - the team spent the next day assessing damages and establishing a new base of operations. Similarly, Field Operations Director Rob McQueen and Otto Flores took refuge in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After a few close calls, they emerged safely and immediately began assessments the scope of the damage.
Many of us that come from a developed country such as the US, know these Caribbean islands as the incredibly beautiful vacation destinations they are – with sunshine, nice resorts, and wonderful local vibes. But what isn’t often thought about, are the little communities where a lot of the local people live, that work at all those resorts and tourist companies. We’ve seen them first hand and know the lack of proper infrastructure in many of them. This is not dissimilar to the dynamic during our response, a couple years back, to Hurricane Odile in Los Cabos, Mexico, where all the “Colonias” (interior villages that house almost 90% of the entire luxury resort workforce in the area) were hit hardest, because of their shanty structures and lack of proper development. Many of these communities are living well below the poverty line, and situated just a few miles away the massive luxury resorts its residents work in. The juxtaposition is nothing short of sobering.
We bring all this up because the devastation from the Caribbean Hurricanes is utterly massive in scale and there are needs everywhere. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of it all, but from our experience it is best to pick one or two ways to help (in our case that is access to clean water), then target certain areas of need, while letting other groups do the same. So, in an effort to streamline, we will target our focus on these specific underserved local communities, that are so often overlooked. We have incredible local points of contact through the entire region and have already been getting good intel on where to start first.
Together with colleagues from the region, that have become friends over the years, we are launching an emergency response initiative to provide access to clean drinking water.
Because we understand that the first few weeks are crucial in stemming the spread of waterborne diseases and life threatening dehydration, we plan to launch our response in three phases:
1. The first phase is designed to mitigate the immediate suffering of the most impacted families, by implementing portable water filtration systems in communities (both to shelters and residences still left standing) living at or below the poverty line. These are communities that already needed our program prior to any disaster, making them the least equipped to handle a catastrophe, such as Irma and Maria. We have seen this scenario many times in Haiti, most recently with Hurricane Matthew last year, and it is the little underserved “forgotten” communities that really feel the worst of what these events have to offer.
2. After we have addressed the immediate need for clean water, phase two will serve to address breakdowns in water infrastructure through the creation of large and centrally-located water depots. These are big systems that can serve entire communities, rather than just one household.
3. The third phase will analyze data that has been compiled throughout the first two phases, allowing us to design and implement long-term mechanisms to change the way water is accessed for years to come – such as rainwater harvesting systems, borehole wells, and/or desalinization systems.
One of our long time advocates and trusted regional Caribbean Hurricane Relief team member, Ben Bourgeois, says, “I have experienced first hand how the Waves For Water organization goes about helping those in need with access to clean water. It is a great place to be able to give back to places that have given me so much throughout my career. I look forward to working on more projects with Waves For Water in the future. I know that Jon always has a solid plan. His experience and resources are key.”
Together with our (first phase) local team, we at Waves For Water are humbly asking you for whatever support you can give so we can execute and scale the plan listed above. As always, we are grateful to all of you who have supported us through the years and are honored to be surrounded by a network that is as devoted to helping people, as we are.
Jon Rose & the W4W Caribbean Hurricane Relief Team