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Cubans rebuilding after Hurricane Ike but more help needed!

Source: Oxfam

Date: 07 Oct 2008
Cubans rebuilding after Hurricane Ike but more help needed!

October 7, 2008 Oxfam 's Executive Director Robert Fox writes of
his meetings with Cuban farmers as they rebuild in the aftermath of
Hurricane Ike.

When the winds struck, Migdalia was well prepared. A respected farmer,
reknown for her knowledge and deep committment to eco-friendly farming,
she and her sons had opened their home to her neighbours to wait out the

Sixty-seven people – with all their electrical appliances – took shelter
under her roof as Hurricane Ike tore through the coast of Guardalavaca,
a popular Canadian tourist destination on Cuba's northeastern shores.
(It's a region where Oxfam Canada supports the Cuban farmers
organization ANAP to improve gender justice in its organization and
projects.) Through one day and into the next, they huddled together
having battened down the shutters, listening to the news from the
national weather service, reassured by the authority of the
meteorologists yet at the same time assaulted by the relentless howling
of the wind.

With winds gusting to 300 kph, the force of the storm was devastating.
Of 187 houses in the community, 165 suffered damage. Many homes lost
rooves or parts of rooves. Household contents were strewn about by the
winds – books and belongings soaked by the driving rain. For some
people, the whirling winds took their walls and tossed them away,
leaving only the floor and their memory.

Much of Migdalia's roof withstood the pressure, but the tile rooves over
her kitchen, porch and verandah were lost as were most of the farm's
outbuildings. She laughs now as she shows me the gouges in her concrete
walls where shattered roof tiles left their mark but the memories of her
night of terror remain fresh.

Like many in her community – and tens of thousands more families across
Cuba –Migdalia and her sons have already repaired much of the damage to
her home. The Cuban government has moved quickly within its means to
distribute roofing materials and while there's a huge deficit, many have
pieced together a new roof, mixing salvaged materials and new. To
stretch resources, many receive only half what they need but it allows
them to enclose at least a couple of rooms, protecting them from the
rains and the sun. Their most immediate shelter needs met, they then
turn their attention to production.

Everyone's basic food needs are being met – , , staples ­– but
food production was decimated by the storm and there's an urgent need to
head off a looming food crisis. Crops were destroyed and food stocks
were lost. Poultry was blown away. Trees were stripped of their leaves
and fruit, burned by the salt-laden torrent. So the second priority,
after assuring everyone has a roof over their head, has been to
kick-start . Green houses, dismantled before the storm, have
been reassembled. Fields are being plowed and seeds sown. Priority is
being given to crops that grow quickly, producing food within 45 to 60
days. Lands that had been left fallow are being put into production.

In the cooperatives around Guardalavaca, as in most provinces of Cuba,
almost all of the production is organic – labour intensive but healthy
and cost-effective produce destined for local consumers. Short weeks
after the hurricane hit, there are fresh green shoots evident throughout
the countryside. But the pressure to produce is immense.

Schools have been destroyed, hospitals have suffered damage, tree-lined
streets have been left bare. It will take many months to repair all the
damage but work is well underway to clear the waste and the rubble and
move from recovery to reconstruction.

But having been hit by two devastating hurricanes ­– Gustav in the west
and Ike in the east – Cubans are making great sacrifices in responding
to the challenge. Meanwhile the response from the Northerns countries –
including the Canadian government – has been very disappointing.

Given that 600,000 Canadians travel to Cuba each year, that Canadian
entrepreneurs are the largest foreign investors in Cuba and that Canada
has an important aid program in Cuba, the response to the situation has
fallen far short.

In Migdalia's community, thousands of palm trees have been toppled. It
is perhaps the saddest part of this sorry tale. To loose a huge palm
forest – one of many lost – that offered shade, food and beauty and
sheltered community and biodiversity is a devastating blow to the local
, and ecological heritage. This part of Cuba is not prone
to hurricanes. The last serious storm was in 1963 and it was largely
heavy rains.

As climate change accelerates and violent weather becomes more frequent,
Migdalia and her neighbours could find themselves increasingly in the
eye of a whirling storm. And yet the cruel irony is that her ecological
footprint is tiny. Like too many people on this planet, those who have
contributed least to climate change are most affected by it.

Because the spirit and solidarity of the Cuban people is such that they
are already well on their way to recovery. And with our help, they can
rebuild their homes, their lives and their livelihoods. Migdalia and her
sons and neighbours embody this resilience and resolve.

I would encourage you to do your part to contribute to Oxfam's efforts
to help Cuba recover from the impact of Ike and Gustav and our ongoing
program to help boost organic, sustainable, local food production while
at the same time nurturing the development of dynamic women leaders like
Migdalia, women producers who are playing a critical leadership role in
Cuba's development and future.

And I would also encourage you, as you cast your ballot next Tuesday, to
think about climate change and social justice and consider who has
demonstrated the greatest commitment to make the real changes needed to
ensure a sustainable future for all.

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