We could not have imagined that within just a few shorts weeks the world would endure the devastation of three major hurricanes in the Atlantic basin and multiple earthquakes across the region. These natural disasters have put an immense strain on international humanitarian relief efforts. The B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund has made appeals to support the recovery in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, and continues to monitor the urgent recovery needs in Puerto Rico and other areas facing dire situations. The B’nai B’rith Cuban Jewish Relief project is also closely following the evolving needs of the Jewish community in Cuba, where Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 5 storm on Friday, Sept. 8.
Hurricane Irma was the first Category 5 storm to make landfall in Cuba since 1932. B’nai B’rith International learned quickly from our partners on the ground that the damage was severe, and the impact devastating. Storm surge pushed about a third of a mile inland into low-lying neighborhoods and adjoining towns, and two of the synagogues in Havana took on water. Immediately, power, gas and water services were affected.
Although thousands of people were evacuated, innumerable buildings suffered partial or total damage. Medicines, foodstuffs and other basic necessities were difficult to locate or afford before Hurricane Irma, and the crisis in these realms continues to worsen, despite a coordinated international humanitarian response. A United Nations report says between 210,000 and 220,000 homes were severely damaged, agricultural crops and livestock hit hard and 14 municipalities from the northern coast of Villa Clara province east to Camagüey critically impacted.
While the flood waters have receded, the hardest hit provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara—three of which maintain active Jewish communities—are still facing interruptions to electrical service nearly a month after the storm.
Compounding the devastation left in Irma’s wake are new travel regulations announced by the Trump administration and their chilling effect on travel by Americans. While much of the enterprises catering to tourists in and around the capital of Havana have been repaired, Cuba has seen a marked drop in U.S. visitors during what is traditionally recognized as the high season. Tourism being the largest factor in the Cuban economy, it is anticipated that these new regulations—particularly during this time of crisis—will stymie recovery efforts even further.
It will take a long time for Cuba to recover from this natural disaster. In an immediate response to the challenges on the ground, the Cuban Jewish Relief Project, in partnership with the Disaster Relief Fund, mobilized over 50,000 water purification tablets for distribution to those affected by water outages. We continue to coordinate with our partners on the ground to assess the damage and the long-term needs of the community.
If you would like to help the Cuban Jewish Relief Project and our recovery efforts, please consider a contribution and Donate Now
Sienna Girgenti is the Assistant Director for the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and Director of the Cuban Jewish Relief Project at B'nai B'rith International. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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