Partnership Seeks to Make Caribbean a Climate Resilient Zone and a Safe Place for Women After Disasters

In a forward-thinking partnership, Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA), International Planned Parent Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR), and the Clara Lionel Foundation are leveraging their strengths to ensure that health care facilities throughout the Caribbean are able to weather increasingly violent storms and that the health care needs of women and girls— the most vulnerable populations –are met in the wake of natural disasters and extreme weather events. Adaptation, done right, will lead to better growth and development.

It will also save lives, protect nature, reduce inequalities, and create opportunities. 

Photo Credit: Belize Family Life Association / International Planned Parenthood Federation

Health Care Facilities — A Harbor in the Storm

In the aftermath of a disaster, health care facilities can serve as important hubs, providing life saving localized responses that are often quicker and more cost effective than international responses. But, in order to serve these roles, health care facilities need to be resilient.  This requires a greater emphasis on ex-ante (before the event) resilience building, a comprehensive disaster risk management strategy, and community training.  

United around a shared philosophy that helping communities become more resilient prior to extreme weather events is far better than seeking to respond after every event, the partnership is working to ensure that health care facilities are able to weather increasingly violent storms. The groups’ proactive approach centers around preventing or diminishing loss as opposed to responding. Preparing for disasters is generally more cost-effective than responding after the fact. 

 “What we focused on with this partnership is looking at what preparedness means in the lens of making these clinics resilient and retrofitting them now, so that when a hurricane or another event like a flood or even earthquake happens, that they’re able to be responsive and open up to serve their clients very quickly after one of these occurrences,” says Kevin Andrezejewski, senior program manager of EWB-USA’s Engineering Service Corps. 

Through the partnership, EWB-USA engineers are currently assessing a number of clinics across the region in Antigua, Belize, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad & Tobago to determine which have the most need for changes—from roofs that won’t fly off in a hurricane to water storage tanks or solar micro grids that can provide power when the grid is still out. 

Existing health facilities’ infrastructure will be assessed and retrofitted to increase resilience to natural hazards, including hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes. These retrofits will be designed to increase the chance of continued operation in the aftermath of disasters where they can serve as important places where community members can gather to receive information, support and safety, and which emergency medical teams can use as a logistical base. 

The ultimate goal of this pilot project is making the Caribbean can become a climate-resilient zone and model for the rest of the globe.

Photo Credit: Belize Family Life Association / International Planned Parenthood Federation

Women and Disasters

Women’s sexual and reproductive health needs do not stop or lessen during an emergency, in fact, they may become greater—Sneha Barot, policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute. 

Natural disasters intensify existing inequities by widening the gap between people with wealth and people living in poverty, disproportionately impacting women and girls. 

During emergencies, women and girls are at particular risk of harm when social and structural support systems around them cease to operate. They often lose their livelihoods, educational opportunities, homes and other advantages. Many face disintegration of their families and social networks, and are susceptible to mental and physical trauma, malnutrition, disease, long-term disability, poverty and especially violence from both intimate partners and others such as armed combatants. 

Integrating Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) in humanitarian response has proven to reduce morbidity and mortality related to HIV, unplanned pregnancy and pregnancy complications, mental health challenges, and gender-based violence, all of which increase in the aftermath of disasters. 

What’s exciting about this partnership is that the approach should result in a more

effective, sustainable, and inclusive resiliency plan and is being built in collaboration with the people it will serve. In the coming months the team will be issuing recommendations and prioritizing resilience activities. For a region so exposed to calamity, building such resilience is not a matter of choice but of survival.

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Engineers Without Borders USA builds a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.