As the U.S. tries to recover from the impact of Hurricane Sandy on our shores, Cuba is facing an immense humanitarian tragedy, with long-term implications for its economy, food security, and its future.
Sandy hit Cuba last Thursday, October 25th, staggering the Eastern side of the island with the knock-out punch of a Category 2 hurricane. Winds gusted in excess of 108 miles per hour. According to preliminary estimates, the storm killed 11 Cubans and caused more than $2 billion in losses.
The UN said the storm damaged at least 180,000 homes, affecting more than one million people, and ruined crops across nearly a quarter-million acres of farmland. State-run media said damage to homes in the provinces of Santiago and Holguin was actually higher.
The Associated Press reported that Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city, most directly affected by Hurricane Sandy, lost power and running water for days. The wire service quoted reports in the Communist party newspaper Granma of “severe damage to housing, economic activity, fundamental public services and institutions of education, health and culture.”
“The reality is much worse than what you can see in the pictures or on TV,” said President Raúl Castro, who witnessed the storm’s aftermath. “Santiago is a moving sight,” he said, “it looks like a bombed city.”
The scope and size of the tragedy is so broad, that Cuba postponed a nationwide military drill, The Bastion 2012 Exercise, until the first half of 2013.
Instead, President Castro said “what was needed now was to ‘make a detailed plan for the recovery of the regions (affected by the hurricane) and make a collection of all the resources they may need’.”
News accounts portray utter devastation. Earlier this week, one Cuban wrote “The sight of women, elderly individuals and children sifting through debris to salvage whatever was left of their belongings was simply heartbreaking.”
In an interview with AP, Berta Serguera, an 82-year-old retiree said, “It’s indescribable. The trees have been shredded as if with a saw. My mango only has a few branches left, and they look like they were shaved.”
Cuba, which already buys over 80 percent of its food from suppliers abroad, is facing a food security nightmare. According to the BBC, first Vice President, Jose Ramon Machado said one of the biggest problems facing the government was guaranteeing food supplies for the people in the affected areas in the coming months.
According to AFP, the United Nations is reporting “The toll on the farm sector will have major repercussions around the country.” It added, “Sugar cane was the single hardest hit followed by plantain and bananas, vegetables and other basic crops” such as beans.