Hurricane Felix's First Responders
Hurricane Felix's First Responders
A 50-year-old Miskito woman named Rose Cunningham, was the early warning system for dozens of impoverished Nicaraguan communities that took a direct hit from Hurricane Felix on Tuesday. Rose, who directs a small community development organization in the nearby town of
Although the sky was already black and the
Most of the families lost their homes, their harvests, and all of their possessions. With no emergency shelters nearby, people were left exposed to the torrential rains of the hurricane. Now all they can do is wait for the next phase of the assault: life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. For these families - denied adequate warning and the infrastructure and resources needed to survive the storm - the disaster of Hurricane Felix is anything but natural.
In fact, the vulnerability of Indigenous and Afro- descendant communities on
Speaking with MADRE by satellite phone on September 4, Rose Cunningham commented, "The national government is obligated by international standards - as are all governments - to prevent the worst impacts of such storms. But here the people live in deep poverty, right at the edge of the river. There are no clinics or emergency workers. No phones, no electricity. We have never had these resources and now we need them more than ever."
Natural Disaster or Disastrous Policies? The "term natural disaster" has always obscured the disproportionate impact of such events on poor communities. But today, even the force of the hurricanes we face may not be entirely natural. Many scientists believe that storms are intensifying as sea temperatures rise due to global warming. Hurricane Felix's landfall, on the heels of last month's Hurricane Dean, marks the first time in more than 120 years that two Category Five storms have hit land in the same season. In fact, of the 31 Category Five storms ever recorded in the
The main causes of global warming, as we know, are greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the unsustainable use of fossil fuels. And it's not the government of
Within these communities, women are ofte hardest hit when disaster strikes because they are over-represented among the poor and often have no safety net. Women are also primarily responsible for those made most vulnerable by disaster - children, the elderly, and people who are ill or disabled. "We know from experience that the worst is yet to come," said Rose Cunningham. "The flooding and mudslides will bring outbreaks of malaria and cholera. People will have no choice but to drink dirty water. Our children and elders will suffer diarrhea. It seems a simple ailment, but without clean water, diarrhea is deadly to babies and old people. The children will ask their mothers for food and water. What will their mothers tell them?"
The Day After Across Nicaragua's
Rose turned to MADRE, an international women's human rights organization that has worked in partnership with Indigenous women's community-based organizations in
Rose worked with MADRE in 1998, during Hurricane Mitch, when some emergency response teams didn't know where Indigenous villages were, much less how to reach them in flood conditions. "With the resources from MADRE we were able to bring aid directly to the women and families who needed it most," recalls Rose "and that's what we must do now. We live here. We know which families have a new baby or someone who cannot walk. We know how to cross the river when the water is angry and we know that aid must be handed to the women, to the mothers, because they are in charge of meeting their families' needs."
Disasters such as Hurricane Felix may have global implications, but they are always local events. And the women in the communities devastated by this storm are not only victims of the disaster, they are also first- responders. We wouldn't expect a fire fighter to go into a burning building without equipment, resources, and training. Let's make sure that the women of