12 Oct 2016
Matilde Mordt, Team Leader, Sustainable Development and Resilience, UNDP Regional Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean
Hurricane Matthew is only the latest reminder of the relentless force of nature. In 25 years, disasters have claimed more than 240,000 lives and caused losses of more than US$39 billion in Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH
In Mayan mythology, the god Huracán originated from the heart of heaven to rule the thunder, lightning, winds and storms. For the Caribbean Tainos, Juracán represented an evil god. In 1494 Christopher Columbus mentioned in his logbook a possible tropical cyclone that surprised his fleet while sailing in the waters near Cuba. It is from this time that this phenomenon, elsewhere in the world called cyclone or typhoon, acquires the name hurricane in the Western Hemisphere.
The recent passage of Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean, which has affected millions of people in the Bahamas, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the United States, reminds us once again of the relentless forces of nature. In Haiti, in addition to the death toll that is rising, there are 750,000 people in need of assistance. In the most affected areas, villages have been shattered and agriculture devastated. Given the precarious sanitary conditions in the country, cholera threatens to resurge.
The forces of heaven would perhaps have surprised pre-Columbian populations. These days, however, we can monitor and predict the course and strength of tropical storms and hurricanes, allowing us to take precautions and prepare for their arrival. Scientists tell us that the speed of the winds in hurricanes will increase with climate change. This stresses the fact that the necessary preparations should be long term and an integral element as we erect human settlements. In other words, we need to build more resilient societies.