Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

EiE Crisis Spotlight: Hurricane Irma

Location of Crisis

Across the Caribbean and the United States


Timing of Crisis

Beginning on 30 August near the Cape Verde Islands, Hurricane Irma made its way across the Atlantic Ocean. On a 1 to 5 categorization scale and determined by the intensity of the sustained wind speeds, Irma has been classified as Category 5, being the highest. As one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, Irma’s path led to catastrophic damage to property, humans, and animals throughout the Caribbean as well as in the southeastern United States, causing flooding, landfalls, power outages, and water shortages. It has been downgraded to Category 1 over time.

Affected Populations

According to the report produced by OCHA ROLAC and its humanitarian partners, the entire (or nearly all) population of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Barthélemy and St. Martin, St. Kitts and Nevis, British Virgin Islands, United States Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Cuba have been affected, some countries such as Barbuda and St. Martin are nearly uninhabitable. Other affected areas include: Dominican Republic, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Atlanta. UNICEF estimates that “more than 10.5 million children live in Caribbean countries exposed to the damage of Hurricane Irma, including 3 million under the age of 5.”

© Ramon Espinosa- AP
A family is walking through a flooded street in Havana, Cuba, symbolizing Irma's impact in the community.


Brief Description of the Situation

Thousands have been displaced, evacuated from their homes, and placed in shelters. Irma’s death toll has risen since the outset of the disaster: 46 people were killed across the affected territories, including 11 in the United States. A number of U.S. territories and states have declared a state of emergency. Affected populations report severe food, water, sanitation and medicine shortages. Hospitals and pharmacies are also reported to have severely damaged and/or destroyed in some islands, such as in St. Martin.

A number of humanitarian and disaster management agencies are now responding and providing relief. While needs assessments and damage reports are still ongoing, it is expected that recovery could take weeks to several months.

© News-Press
South Fort Myers High School in Florida was used as a shelter due to housing shortages.

Impact on Education

Nearly the entire infrastructure of Barbuda and St. Martin have been demolished and 132 schools have been destroyed. Communication networks are down and utilities (e.g. electricity, cable) damaged, while some roads are impassable. 2,186 educational centers are damaged in Cuba, according to the situation report No.10. Many students have also lost their school materials, bags, and uniforms.

Most educational facilities are affected, and schooling is disrupted. Miami Herald reported that schools in Puerto Rico, Antigua and Anguilla, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Bahamas and some counties in Florida have been closed. Due to housing shortages, while schools are being used as shelters by many communities in the Caribbean as well as in the United States, some are operating through double-shift arragements to continue the teaching activities. According to theirworld, the government of Antigua and Barbuda are working together "to integrate more than 500 students from Barbuda into Antigua's public school system."

According to a local newspaper, breakfast and lunch will be provided to all students in nearly 50 school districts (3,000 schools) in Florida until October 20th through a federal program.


Education Actors Responding to the Crisis

Hurricane Irma destroyed Barbuda's only secondary school.
Frontline education actors include: UNICEF, Save the Children, CARE, and UNESCO.

CARE is working in Haiti and Cuba to provide assistance, including education, to the most affected.

UNICEF has planned to establish early childhood development (ECD) centres and alternative community spaces. Together with UNESCO and WHO, UNICEF began the "Return to Happiness" programme for children and youth to provide psychosocial support in the Caribbean.

UNICEF is also carrying out psychosocial support and social and emotional learning activities in the Eastern Caribbean.

IRC’s Miami and Tallahassee field offices are mobilized to inform their refugee clients about the impact of the disaster and help them find shelters.

In partnership with UNICEF, Save the Children is planning an education response in St. Martin/St. Maarten.

UNESCO is developing a teacher-centered project in Cuba that is focused on post-disaster psycho-pedagogical care.


Needs and challenges

According to the three-month Regional Response Plan, the immediate funding requirement for education is $1.4 million to provide life-saving and early recovery humanitarian intervention.

Reestablishment of schools and the continuation of schooling as well as the upgrading of their water, hygiene, and sanitation facilities are urgent needs for thousands of children and youth.

Psychosocial support for students, teachers, and all education professionals are needed.

Strengthening the capacity of care givers and parents through training on child protection, nutrition, and health is of particular importance.


Key Information Sources



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Key words

Hurricane, Flooding, Destruction, Education, Emergency  


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