In November 2020, Central America was hit by two of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded, decimating entire communities, and leaving hundreds of thousands of families without food, water or shelter. The second storm reached category five intensity, making landfall with winds over 160 mph.
Beyond the immediate material damage and loss of life, the hurricanes drove thousands to shelters with limited health security capacities for preventing the spread of COVID-19. In total, an estimated 9.2 million people have been affected by the storms, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
They barely made the news.
One of the many, albeit more removed resulting tragedies of a world ravaged by a deadly pandemic and toxic politics, is that the ‘normal’ catastrophes are largely overlooked. When Hurricanes Eta and Iota made landfall, news stations were pinned to Steve Kornacki, all but ignoring the wake of devastation left by the two hurricanes. Coverage of disasters brings not only awareness, but material and monetary assistance. Lack of coverage left communities reeling for aid.
Aerial photo shows devastating flooding in Honduras caused by Hurricane Eta. (Photo Credit: Food for the Poor)
Nevertheless, nonprofits, governments and individuals mobilized to support the millions impacted by the storms. LifeStraw partnered with several of the responding organizations and individuals to ship thousands of filters to affected areas, to ensure access to safe drinking water and to help eliminate waterborne disease outbreak all too common in post-disaster situations.
Providencia Island, a small Colombian island off the coast of Nicaragua, was pummeled by the second storm, destroying 98% of its infrastructure and leaving its 5,000+ residents in critical need of relief. Due to its small size and remote location, the island was missed by larger NGO relief efforts, and much of the support for Providencia has been at the grassroots level.
Remnants of wood and household items are all that remain of many residents’ homes after winds over 160mph ravaged the small island of Providencia.
Residents of Providencia were not alerted of the impending storm’s intensity, certainly not with enough time to evacuate. Many spent upward of 24 hours sheltering in their cement bathrooms or underground in drained cisterns to wait out the storm’s wrath, which ripped off rooves and sent wooden homes toppling to the ground. When Iota finally passed, fishing boats were found hundreds of feet into the island’s forests.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, many families fled to neighboring San Andres Island, which had suffered severe winds and rain, but was spared much of the devastation that its sister island endured. But Providencia residents have begun to trickle back, to pick up the pieces of lives left scattered across the island. The Colombian government has been working to clean up the debris, but most families are still living in tents or under makeshift tarps, with no power and little access to safe water.
A local three-year-old boy draws out his memories of the storm, depicting trees and pieces of his house spiraling around him as he sheltered in a bathroom with his family. Local nonprofits are working to get kids back to learning, while also addressing the trauma they experienced during the storm.
Many outdoor brands have the unique value of manufacturing products most needed in the immediate and short-term aftermath of a disaster. When LifeStraw was contacted by Daniel Jackaman, a founder of local design studio Manawar and lifetime resident of San Andres, requesting donations of water filters, LifeStraw saw it not only as a way to reach more with safe water, but to initiate a coalition of brands willing to step up when a disaster strikes. Several brands – including MPOWERD, Nite Ize, Badger and All Good – responded almost immediately, and expedited shipments of products down to LifeStraw’s Baltimore headquarters.
Bags of donated supplies, including filters, solar lanterns, flashlights, sunscreen and bug spray were delivered to families across the island.
Last month, LifeStraw’s Social Impact and Engineering Managers traveled down Providencia with suitcases of the donated products in tow. With the invaluable support from Daniel and other island residents, the team distributed the filters and other supplies to hundreds of families, children, shelters and schools. The hundreds of donated MPOWERD solar lights and Nite Ize flashlights were delivered to families whose homes have not received power in over two months. Hundreds of tubes of Badger and All Good sunscreen and SPF lip balm are now in the hands of residents who spend all day in the direct island sun trying to rebuild; several even revealed the severe sunburns they’ve’ acquired since the storm. Badger’s bug spray has already shielded hundreds of families still sleeping unprotected in the open air.
A local resident tests out his new LifeStraw personal. Filters will allow residents to safely drink the rainwater captured in underground cisterns.
During an unprecedented year, in an everchanging erratic world, consumers are increasingly looking to companies to be authentically and transparently responsible, and holding them accountable if they’re not. LifeStraw is committed to responding to as many natural and humanitarian emergencies as possible, and mobilizing the outdoor industry to follow suit.
Daniel and his colleagues continue to raise funds, and travel between the two islands to lend support where they can. But it will take years for families on Providencia, and across Central America, to restore their crops, homes and communities. To help Providencia rebuild, please donate to: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-people-of-providence-island?utm_source=whatsapp-visit&utm_medium=chat&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet.
Daniel, San Andres resident and founder of local design studio Manawar, has been supporting hurricane relief efforts since the hurricane hit in November.