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Devastation in Cuba Reveals Serious Humanitarian Crisis

Director General of the Belize Red Cross Lily Bowman will soon be launching a 1 local appeal to assist the people of Cuba on the devastation from Hurricane Sandy.  On Friday she shared the press release sent from the Federation and I just got the all clear to blog it. It really puts it into perspective see how tremendous the devastation was Panama, 2 November, 2012- Hurricane Sandy tore through Cuba last week causing severe damages to infrastructure and affecting a large portion of the Cuban population. Strong winds and torrential rains caused severe flooding, felled many trees, and damage to crops. Dr. Luis Foyo Ceballos, Secretary General of the Cuba Red Cross, said that in the province of Santiago, more than 60 per cent of the population had been affected. “This hurricane has surprised us not only because of its strength, but also because it has caused a level of destruction which we did not expect,” he said. “We know our early warning systems are very good and the allow us to be well prepared, but we are simply not used to this loss of life.” As assessments are completed on the ground  the needs for humanitarian assistance in Cuba are rising. Lucia Lasso, IFRC Disaster Management Delegate mobilized to Cuba to assist the Cuban Red Cross with assessment, said “Its hard to imagine the level of destruction through figures and data. In the province Santiago we are talking about over 300,000 people affected ,over 130,000 families have suffered damage to their homes,  and more than 15,000 homes have been completely destroyed. Across the province of Holguin, where the shelter situation is also grave, over 63,000 homes have been affected and although the impressive support the government of Cuba is putting in place to support the affected population, it is clear to us, that the recovery will be difficult and will require time” It is clear that a substantial relief support is needed in Cuba, which has promoted the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to launch a preliminary call for voluntary donations totalling 5,453,221 Swiss francs/5,843,000 US dollars which will be increased in the next 24 hours, to support relief and recovery operations. The IFRC’s logistic unit is coordinating a massive mobilization of 200 tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba consisting of shelter kits as well as family kits. “We understand that mobilization of this aid implies a high level of coordination and we are working around the clock to make sure that the aid needed is  delivered as quickly as possible” observed Ilir Caushaj IFRC Logistics Coordinator. Thousands of families in Cuba have lost absolutely everything and have left their destroyed homes to stay with families and friends. However this situation is still troubling given the fact that many people are staying in houses that have also received some damage and present a significant risk to the people seeking shelter in these structures. “There is a growing need for shelter solutions such as roofs, tarpaulins, as well as supplying hygiene kits, family kits, kitchen sets, mattresses and bed sheets to those who lost everything” said Benoit Porte Coordinator of the IFRC’s Disaster Response Unit. Cuban’s are still experiencing massive power outages, and phone lines are down due to the fact that high winds knocked down many trees. However, cell phone lines are still working well, allowing families to reconnect after the storm. There was also extensive damage to water distribution systems. “What is also concerning is the fact that 75 per cent of the city is being provided water but it is not yet safe and extremely turbid. The Cuban Government is providing chlorination tablets but treatment of water is a high priority” added Lucia Lasso. Hospitals and health care centres are functional and working using fuel plants and most medical items were salvaged. However loss of and damage to roofs further highlight the need for shelter solutions. The airport and port in Santiago are closed for commercial purposes but functioning to receive emergency aid. Most of the roads in Cuba have been cleared, but also concerning is the fact that 16 warehouses in the province were affected causing the loss of 34,000 tons of food. Also troubling but equally inspiring is the fact that 94 per cent of Cuban Red Cross volunteers who are members of the municipal operations and relief teams in Santiago were directly affected by the powerful hurricane. Nonetheless volunteers have been working in shifts around the clock throughout the week to provide assistance to those most in need. “Our volunteers have been working tirelessly from the onset of the hurricane, this fills us with pride because they are providing assistance despite the fact that they have been affected” stated Dr. Luis Foyo Ceballos. “We are always proud and confident of the work of the Cuban Red Cross volunteers, their capacity and creativity to find solutions is impressive. What is clear to us, is that it will not be enough this time. Therefore funding is necessary to cover the vast needs for recovery in Cuba. The needs are vast” assured Xavier Castellanos IFRC Americas Zone Director. The IFRC is  calling on all its partners and member National Societies  to contribute to the appeal to support the massive relief and recovery operation needed in Cuba. Those interested in contributing with cash donations to this operation can do so by donating through their local Red Cross. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 mil­lion people each year through its 186 member National Societies. Together, the IFRC acts before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people. It does so with impartiality as to nationality, race, gender, religious beliefs, class and political opinions. For more information, please visit You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

For more information, or to set up interviews, please contact: ·In Panama, Enrique Jair Guevara, Communications Officer, IFRC. Mobile +507 6670-7365 Email:<> ·In Geneva, Benoit Carpentier, Manager (acting), Public Communications, IFRC.  Mobile: +41 792132413. Email:<>

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