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READY OR NOT? Hurricane preparedness, response, and recovery of farms, forests, and rural communities in the U.S. Caribbean


Farmers, forest owners, and rural communities are among the groups most exposed to the effects and associated impacts of hurricanes and other extreme climate events in the Caribbean. Yet, little is known about their preparedness for or their capacity to respond to and recover from these disturbances. We conducted qualitative research involving focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with 152 farmers, forest owners, and agriculture and forest experts in Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands to understand the effects and associated impacts of hurricanes Irma and María at farm, forest, community, and sectoral levels and the internal and external factors that help to explain their capacities to anticipate, absorb, and adapt to hurricanes and other extreme climate events. Participants reported widespread crop and livestock losses; extensive damages to roads, facilities, and other private and public infrastructure; lengthy outages in electricity, telecommunications, and water supplies; and harmful impacts on human health and well-being that significantly affected their productive capacities and livelihoods. Most farmers and forest owners reported coping with the immediate effects and associated impacts of the hurricanes largely on their own, some also reported the emergence of informal or extemporized relief and recovery support, mostly from family members, neighbors, and others in their local community. Official relief and recovery resources for the agriculture and forest sectors were described by many as having been too rigid or onerous to access or navigate successfully, ultimately limiting their effectiveness in supporting farm and forest relief and recovery. Few participants or sectors reported having adequate hurricane preparations, mitigation, or adaptation practices in place prior to the storms. Low levels of risk reduction and adaptation mostly were associated with limited human, financial, and technological resources to design and implement related strategies and practices at individual and community levels. Many participants expressed a desire to incorporate more or specific hurricane and other disturbance plans and preparations into their production systems. Some participants also described plans to adapt, innovate, or transform their farm and forest systems, but few had implemented these types of changes at the time of data collection. Findings point to the need for improved understanding, adoption, and support of effective hurricane mitigation and adaptation measures in agriculture, forests, and rural communities; increased flexibility and adaptiveness of official response and recovery programs and processes to accommodate local contexts, capacities, and conditions; and practical planning, preparations, and other risk reduction measures for famers and forest owners at individual, community, organizational, and larger scales. Study results are important to the design and implementation of ongoing recovery.

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