Hurricane Sandy one year on: What have we learned? | Heraldo Muñoz

28 Oct 2013

flooding in Haiti Flooding after Hurricane Sandy in Haiti. (Photo: UNDP Haiti)

Originally published at Aljazeera Online. The full article can be viewed here.

This week marks Hurricane Sandy's first anniversary. Most media attention will understandably focus on the destruction and suffering caused when Sandy struck the United States on October 29 last year, killing more than 110 people and causing more than $50 billion in damages.

But what is likely to get less attention is that the US was just the last of many stops on the hurricane's tour of destruction and that there are many lessons we should learn from those living in the Caribbean, a region regularly tested by the Atlantic hurricane season.

On a recent visit to Port-au-Prince, I witnessed the tenacity of Haitians who gave me a tour of their newly rebuilt neighbourhood, one of the hardest-hit by the 2010 earthquake. What struck me is that while Haiti suffered a double-hit — with Sandy arriving only two years after the earthquake which killed at least 100,000 people, and affected as many as 3 million more — many measures implemented during the quake recovery helped reduce some of the storm's impact.

For example, more than 300,000 people in Haiti have been engaged in community clean-up, which aids reconstruction and limits the risk of future events. Workers have been building riverbank protection against floods, constructing walls to prevent landslides, and planting mangroves and forests to block winds and debris.

Cuba, which has been hit by at least 20 hurricanes and tropical storms since 1996, only lost 56 lives to Sandy. While any death is unnecessary, this number could have been much higher without the risk reduction management centres set up by the government with our support.

The centres analyse areas of the country that are most at risk from storms and use this information to develop safer housing policies or urban planning. When Sandy struck last year, early warning systems ushered people away from exposed areas and into shelters.

In countries as diverse as Chile, Armenia, Bangladesh and Nepal, it has been proven that preparing for disasters helps mitigate the impact and avoids the heavy costs of cleanup and recovery. This is a lesson that should be adopted in all countries prone to disasters, rich and poor alike. For instance - while estimates vary, the cost of protecting New York City from future storms could be as low as $10 billion, much less than the estimated $18 billion worth of damage Sandy caused to the city.

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