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Aid organisations help Cuban hurricane victims

Reconstruction plays an important role in Swiss aid to Cuba

(swissinfo.ch)

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike caused more than $5 billion (SFr5.65 billion) in damage when they hit Cuba in September. Swiss groups are working to ease the suffering.

Every year hurricanes sweep across the Caribbean leaving carnage in their wake, but even by those standards Gustav and Ike were particularly devastating.

In Cuba they razed 65,000 homes, destroyed 450,000 roofs and caused untold damage to factories, tobacco-drying facilities, schools and cinemas. A quarter of a million people across eight provinces were left homeless.

Unlike Haiti or Jamaica, Cuba has an effective civil defence system. With the Cuban authorities implementing rigorous evacuation plans, hurricane-related deaths are rare.

However, Havana's above-average prevention indirectly affects the way foreign governments and aid organisations provide assistance to the country.

"The Cuban state is well equipped for natural disasters and hurricanes, with an elaborate system that comes down from the top to the communities," Herbert Schmid, a representative of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Havana told swissinfo.

Since the hurricanes in Haiti claimed many more lives – Ike alone killed more than 70 people in Haiti – most aid agencies directed their efforts there. But that doesn't mean Cuba doesn't need help.

Sustainable assistance

The SDC helps Cuban hurricane victims in two ways.

"Our assistance benefits them directly," Schmid said. "We deliver goods needed for daily life to those who had their houses destroyed and their food washed away."

The agency also delivers seeds to farmers so that they can prepare for the next harvest.

Furthermore, the SDC helps on a sustainable level.

"In a hurricane region we construct workshops where bricks and other building materials are produced," he said. "In total the agency contributes about SFr800,000 ($705,000) towards Cuban hurricane victims."

School construction

The city and province of Camagüey in central Cuba was hit particularly hard by the hurricane. Camaquito, a Swiss aid organisation for children, is located there.

"I experienced the hurricane in Camaquito's windowless garage," said Mark Kuster, who has managed the organisation on the ground for years.

Camaquito supports Cuban children and adolescents with education, athletics and culture. "After the hurricanes Camaquito focused on rebuilding 29 destroyed rural schools," Kuster said.

Camaquito has launched an appeal for funds and remains in contact with various church communities in Switzerland which consider financial help for projects in the area.

"We can do a lot in Camagüey with relatively little money. In one of the first stages we plan to rebuild a rural school for SFr62,000," he said.

Public health

MediCuba, a Swiss non-governmental organisation that has supported public health projects in Cuba since 1992, decided to help Cuban hurricane victims immediately.

"The country needs direct help now to cope with the emergency," Nelido Gonzalez, a surgeon who runs the project on the ground in Cuba, told swissinfo.

He says medical help in Cuba is currently second-rate. "We'd like around $50,000 to carry out projects in other provinces for hurricane victims," he said.

"The entire country needs construction materials for roofs and hygiene supplies for the homeless. Public health campaigns providing preventive information against epidemics are vital."

swissinfo, based on an article in German by Erwin Dettling in Havana

Hurricanes in Cuba

1996 Lilli
2001 Michelle
2004 Charley, Ivan
2005 Dennis
2008 Gustav, Ike

Between 1844 and 1885 eight hurricanes swept across Cuba. Between 1909 and 1952 the number had increased to 12.

Hurricanes can stretch across 800 square kilometres and generally last seven to ten days.

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