Lessening the Impact of Hurricanes
by Rick Randolph
Disasters are predictable, but not when, where or how they occur. What is predictable is that that they WILL occur and that has always been the case for Haiti. On October 4th, Hurricane Matthew struck the eastern end of the southern peninsula of Haiti with 140 mph winds, a strong storm surge and devastating winds. The same day, I flew as part of the Heart to Heart International advanced team to assess the damage to our existing programs in Haiti and to provide assistance in the worst hit areas. The damage was immense. 350,000 people lost their homes and were in need of assistance, over 1000 people lost their lives and 100% of the crops in the province of Grand Anse were destroyed. With the disrupted water and sanitation, cholera is now stalking the land and will probably cause more loss of life than the direct effects of the hurricane.
Hurricanes are a natural occurrence and have plagued mankind as long as we have lived near the oceans. What isn't natural is the increasing intensity and frequency of these storms. Up to 90% of the excess heat due to global climate change is stored in the upper levels of the oceans. Hurricanes are triggered by the atmospheric disturbances caused by the warm ocean water. The more heat in the ocean water, the more energy available to grow the hurricane. With the continued rapid warming of our planet, we are growing and will continue to grow increasingly severe hurricanes.
This mostly affects the poor. In the developing world, the poor live clustered to the ocean’s shore on the least desirable and most vulnerable land. They are typically the last to leave the path of a hurricane because of the difficulty in getting the news to them and their desire to protect their unsecured possessions. Their loss of life becomes another disaster that is again sadly predictable.
Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, not as a statement of resignation, but a reminder that our responsibility to care for the least of these among us will never be over. For Haiti, this means doing all we can to slow global climate change and to help protect those who cannot protect themselves. Hurricanes will occur but we must work to lessen their impact. This is our call.
Rick Randolph, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of Heart to Heart. For the past two decades, he has provided primary care, disaster response and public health in the US and globally. Rick holds a certificate in Public Health in the Developing World. Rick and his wife, Jo, are members of Grace Covenant Presbyterian, Overland Park, KS, an Earth Care Congregation. PEC is grateful for their ongoing and invaluable eco-justice work in the congregation, presbytery and with PEC and Environmental Ministries.