OUR WATER, SANITATION AND HYGIENE COORDINATOR, DANIEL HEKEL, WRITES FROM OUR WORK IN ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA.
I travelled to Antigua and Barbuda 11 days ago. I landed on the island of Antigua and the very next day I was able to journey by plane over to Barbuda, the other major island of this Caribbean nation. As the plane landed I could see the widespread devastation of the island’s only village. Over 95% of the buildings and vehicles were destroyed when Hurricane Irma landed on the island as a Category 5 hurricane, which is the highest level on the scale. I was deeply saddened to see so many houses destroyed and also surprised at how brown the island was due to the destruction of all the trees and foliage. It is hard to imagine how destructive wind can be but Barbuda faced the full force of one of the strongest hurricanes to ever be recorded.
As Hurricane Jose was approaching the island just a few days after Irma hit, the entire population of 1,800 people was evacuated to Antigua, which was mostly spared from the destruction of the first storm. For the first time in 300 years, Barbuda no longer had any people living on it. Irma had destroyed one of the mobile phone towers and communications with the rest of the world were completely down for a time.
Through this crisis, Samaritan’s Purse has responded quickly by providing clean water and emergency shelter materials. We have helped with cleaning out churches and other community centres. With so few people on the island, our disaster response team took the initiative and worked with local pastors to put tarps on churches and houses.
People are now starting to come back to Barbuda, and we want to be there to support them on the difficult journey of rebuilding their homes as well as their lives. As a water and sanitation specialist, I’ve helped with installing two emergency water purification systems that are providing 2,000 litres of water per day. One of these machines is filtering fresh water from a system to make sure it is safe to drink. At the other water point we are desalinating saltwater. It is incredible how we can take salt water from the ocean, a nearly infinite source, and turn it into drinking water. This water point is right by the small dock where people get off the boat from Antigua.
As people return to their homes we want them to know that they are not forgotten. We also want to give them hope and I’ve been so encouraged to see people smile when they see there is clean water right where they first land.
I’m inspired to help people from all communities, even small ones like Barbuda. While Samaritan’s Purse is also responding to larger islands like Dominica and Puerto Rico, I feel privileged to be a part of the team for this response. For we know that God made all people in His image, and we all have value. Thank you for your prayers and your support as we bring greatly needed help to the people of Barbuda.