Hurricane Dorian

Amid Dorian’s Chaotic Aftermath, Plotting an Effective Response

Direct Relief is preparing to provide medical aid to up to 75,000 people potentially affected by the storm.

A hurricane-damaged marina in the Bahamas is seen from the air on Sept. 2, 2019, and search and rescue efforts are underway across the islands. (Photo by Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater)
A hurricane-damaged marina in the Bahamas is seen from the air on Sept. 2, 2019, and search and rescue efforts are underway across the islands. (Photo by Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater)

Hurricane Dorian is pulling away from its days-long assault on the Bahamas, leaving desolation behind – and a slow, unsteady trickle of on-the-ground reports in its wake.

A lack of access to the most affected areas is making it difficult for government officials and aid groups to understand the full impact of the storm, and compromising response efforts. But there are concerns that the death toll – currently at five – will continue to rise as reliable information come in.

Humanitarian aid has begun pouring into the islands, creating a familiar dilemma: While the aid is needed and welcomed, its usefulness is compromised if aid groups don’t carefully coordinate efforts with the government and one another. Not doing so can cause duplicate efforts, clog ports and passageways, and – worst of all – divert attention and resources needed elsewhere to deal with the incoming chaos.

That’s why Direct Relief is working closely with the Ministry of Health, large-scale regional organizations, and other humanitarian groups to deliver vital aid wherever it’s most urgently needed.

Based on initial assessments, up to 75,000 people may be in need of medical aid. (The entire population of the Bahamas is slightly under 400,000.)

On Monday, the Ministry of Health submitted an eight-page list of medical requests to Direct Relief, covering everything from pain-management medications and dialysis supplies to body bags, suggesting concerns about a rising death toll. Direct Relief staff are currently assembling the requested items, and working with FedEx to deliver them to the islands as soon as possible.

One Direct Relief staff member, currently in Nassau, is preparing to make a 12-hour journey by boat through treacherous waters to the Abacos. The boat will carry a cache of Hurricane Preparedness Packs, which the organization developed in consultation with experts to respond as effectively as possible to medical needs in the wake of a hurricane.

Another staff member, also carrying a cache of vital medications and supplies, is traveling with a group of doctors planning to fly into the Abacos as soon as conditions allow.

Direct Relief has committed $250,000 to the Hurricane Dorian response, which will cover everything from the transportation of vital supplies to the operating costs for healthcare organizations and first responders.

While a hurricane’s severity is measured by wind speed, it’s actually water – in the form of flooding, storm surge, and heavy rainfall – that’s generally most lethal. In the hours and days following Dorian, first responders will confront everything from minor lacerations and skin conditions to heart attacks and other stress-induced health problems.

When a hurricane strikes, medications are often damaged or left behind. People suffering from chronic disease are at risk of going without vital medication. Power outages can be life-threatening to people who need dialysis or other medical devices.

And as the days go by, people affected by a hurricane are at risk of cholera, tetanus, and other diseases caused by exposure to unsanitary water. In warm conditions, standing waters allow mosquitoes to breed, increasing the potential for vector-borne diseases. Exposure to mold – which thrives when buildings are damaged by water – can lead to severe respiratory conditions.

Direct Relief will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Health, along with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and other humanitarian aid groups, to develop and carry out an effective response to Dorian and its aftermath.

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