13.10.2017 - Natural Sciences Sector

UNESCO helps Antigua and Barbuda plan for recovery after hurricane Irma

© UNESCO Post disaster assessment in Antigua and Barbuda, October 2017

Hurricane Irma, a tropical storm of historic intensity, has had a devastating impact across the Caribbean islands. It was at peak intensity with near 300 km/h winds when it moved across Barbuda on 5-6 September, destroying much of the island’s infrastructure. As Antigua and Barbuda plans for recovery, its Ministry of Education, Science and Technology called on UNESCO to an assessment of post-disaster needs, to inform the rebuilding process of educational and cultural infrastructure.

With regards to the education sector, both pupils and teachers form Barbuda have been temporarily transferred to schools in Antigua, where the infrastructure was less impacted by Irma. However, schools of both islands were inspected, to identify weaknesses and improve preparedness to face future natural hazards. The UNESCO Kingston Office, together with experts from the Italian Fire Corps, surveyed over 50 sites to provide the information needed to ensure a swift recovery as well as better preparedness. The locations surveyed included all 49 public educational institutions ranging from day-care, preschool, primary, secondary, vocational and tertiary level facilities.

With regards to the cultural sector, historical and archaeological sites, and traditional housing have also been assessed including in particular, the National Archives of Antigua and Barbuda and the Barbuda Research Complex. The assessment equally covered extensively elements of intangible cultural heritage, museums and collections, as well as the creative industries and recreational activities. Barbuda’s culture sector underpins community identity and plays a critical role in social cohesion. Given the cross-cutting nature and diversification of the effects of culture in all sectors of the society, the recovery strategy should be based on understanding of cultural behaviors and practices and full community participation guided by the build back better approach.

Overall, the damages in Barbuda, which was in the direct path of the hurricane, were severe for both educational and cultural infrastructure and assets. The city of Codrington in Barbuda was the most impacted. According to WMO, future projections indicate that hurricanes will become more intense due to climate change and the history of past hurricane seasons in the Caribbean illustrates that Antigua and Barbuda remains likely exposed to risks associated to this frequent natural hazards; so it is imperative that such risks are taken into account when rebuilding the infrastructure.

The VISUS methodology and tools were used for the assessment. These tools were developed by the SPRINT-Lab of the University of Udine, a UNESCO Chair, in close cooperation with UNESCO. VISUS helps to evaluate site conditions, structural performance, local structural vulnerabilities, non-structural components and functional aspects. Following analysis, simple graphic indicators summarize the evaluation pointing out the main weaknesses and the needs of intervention. The collection of data during the inspection phase is done through a mobile application. The VISUS methodology aims to help governments identify priorities and define the budgets needed to ensure the safety of their school infrastructure. It identifies needs for rehabilitation, reinforcement or retrofitting of buildings, or for the constructions of new safe infrastructure.

The fact-finding mission was conducted quickly, over three days in October. The team has been able to share preliminary conclusions, and is now finalizing the analysis of the situation for the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. The majority of the schools assessed were found to be safe or with vulnerabilities that are relatively easy to repair. Preliminary findings are available online

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