accessibility & help

Haiti hurricane

In early October 2016 Hurricane Matthew was tracked as it swept across the Atlantic. In its path was Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. The island was still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2010. The impact of the hurricane was immense; housing and agriculture was destroyed and many people died.

Explore what young people heard, and what they’d like to find out more about.

Learning objectives

After taking part in these activities young people will be able to:

  • List questions they would like to ask of people caught up in Hurricane Matthew and those involved in providing assistance.
  • Identify key elements of resilience relevant to an emergency and assess their own personal strengths.



Improvisation matters


Effects of poverty

Fears the world will forget

Starter activity

People in Haiti use a handmade ladder after the bridge has been destroyed by Hurricane Matthew© Info

Show the photograph.

Invite immediate responses and then explain the background. The picture was taken in Chantal, Haiti; three days after Hurricane Matthew struck. The hurricane is reported to have caused more than 1,000 deaths on the island. It shows people using a handmade ladder to get across a collapsed bridge.

Split into small groups, and ask each group to agree two questions they would like to ask those pictured. One should be a closed question; the other an open question.

If necessary, explain that:

  • Closed questions are ones that invite answers that are simple, short and usually quick to provide. They are good for finding out facts, or to clarify or confirm something. If you ask a closed question, you know the kind of answer you’ll probably get.
  • Open questions are ones that invite fuller, more thoughtful answers that may take longer to provide. They are good at discovering how people think or feel. They can also encourage people to describe themselves or something that’s important to them, whether it’s a preference, a problem or a plan. If you ask an open question, you may well be surprised by the response.

Check that the group understands by asking them to identify which of these is open and which closed.

  • How far have you travelled today?
  • How has your life been affected by the hurricane?

After thinking time, ask groups to report back their questions. How easy would it be to find answers to them?

Do young people think they could predict people’s responses from news coverage of this or other disasters? How confidently?

There are some questions it is difficult to ask people in the aftermath of a disaster. We are naturally reluctant to delve into painful loss. Did groups bear this in mind when devising their questions? Is there sometimes a difference between what you would like to know and what you feel comfortable asking about? Why?

Develop the theme of critical enquiry by devising one open and one closed question to ask of other individuals or groups. For example, what would the group want to ask:

  • An expert meteorologist who tracks hurricanes.
  • The organiser of a local team of volunteers in Haiti.
  • A teenager who survived the hurricane and also remembers the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, regarded as one of the biggest humanitarian disasters of recent times.
  • The operations director of a major international aid agency based in the UK.
  • A journalist covering the story for UK media.
  • A local health worker who is keen to promote key health messages around sanitation and hygiene.

Improvisation matters

Look again at the photograph. Note how people are helping themselves and each other. They’ve rigged up makeshift ladders from available materials. The young are helping the old. They’re transporting things that might be useful.

Discuss improvisation and what an important part of resilience it is. What does it mean to improvise? Why might improvisation help us be resilient?

Adapting available materials to solve a problem can make a big difference when things are tough. Invite young people to think about their own improvisation skills. Have they got any examples they can share of times when they have improvised a solution to a problem?

All the following are elements that can contribute to improvisation and resilience:

  • Practical skills
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Confidence
  • Positive outlook
  • Local knowledge

How would individuals assess themselves on each? Where do their personal strengths lie? Are there any other elements they would add to the list?

Discuss how effective a team can be when working together, pooling different qualities and expertise. Look at the qualities that you think you are not personally strong on. Who do you know who is? Try to think of someone you know who you would like on your team in a crisis to cover each of those bases. How might you work together?


Damage from a hurricane can bring hazards that last much longer than the storm itself.

One of the main concerns in Haiti is disease, particularly cholera – a highly infectious disease, which is spread through consumption of contaminated water.

Invite the group to do some sentence matching; linking up each of the first-half sentences with its appropriate second half from the list below.

First half

  1. It is essential that people
  2. They also need access
  3. Without them water-borne diseases
  4. Cholera is highly infectious and can
  5. Aid agencies are supplying clean water as well as

Second half

  1. cause severe diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration that can be deadly if untreated.
  2. water purification tablets, chlorine solution and hygiene kits.
  3. to sanitary toilet facilities.
  4. have access to clean water for drinking and washing.
  5. such as cholera can spread quickly.

Key: 1d; 2c; 3e; 4a; 5b

Discuss the assembled sentences. Do they give a clear account of what cholera is? What else would young people like to know? What are the key things that need to be done to limit the spread of cholera?

Could the group use the information to create an awareness-raising campaign about the importance of clean water, sanitation and hygiene in tackling the spread of cholera? A significant proportion of people in Haiti don't get the chance of regular schooling — so make sure the campaign doesn’t depend on the written word.

Effects of poverty

Disasters hit poor countries harder than wealthier countries. Although Hurricane Matthew struck land in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and the United States, the vast majority of deaths were in Haiti.

Ask young people to research online and try to discover:

  • estimates of the numbers of those who died in different countries struck by Hurricane Matthew.
  • estimates of the cost of the damage caused in different countries.
  • the ways different countries prepared for and coped with the event.

Ask them to explain, from research or their own analysis, why people in poorer countries are often more affected by disasters. Can they list reasons?

Come together to discuss the findings. How did young people’s list of reasons compare with some of the following suggestions?

  • The government can’t afford building inspectors.
  • Poor-quality materials aren’t able to withstand the storms.
  • People might not have access to news, so don’t hear the warnings.
  • People might not be able to afford to evacuate the area.
  • People living in poverty may be more reluctant to leave an area because they want to protect their livelihoods, particularly if they have no insurance.
  • People who live in poorer coastal areas and areas of low-lying land are more likely to face the main force of a storm.

What other ideas did the group have?

Fears the world will forget

A massive amount of humanitarian relief and recovery work remains to be done in Haiti.

  • People need access to medical care for treatment for injuries from the storm, as well as for standard health care and disease prevention.
  • People need to repair their homes and build temporary shelters.
  • Hospitals, schools and other vital community resources need to be rebuilt.
  • New water treatment and sanitation systems are needed, as well as cleaning and personal hygiene materials.
  • Practical and emotional support is needed for those affected.

Communities are likely to need help with their recovery. So what might be top of the list of concerns for aid agencies?

“Our biggest concern right now is that the world will forget about this” says Stephen McAndrew, head of Hurricane Matthew emergency operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Reflect on this comment, and explore its implications. Can young people form their own responses to the following questions?

  • Why is the head of an aid operation so concerned? What is it about world attention that is so vital?
  • What does that say about the importance of the media? What part do newspapers, television, radio and social media play in contributing to reducing human suffering?
  • Do young people remember what type of natural disaster struck Haiti in January 2010? The Haiti earthquake was one of the biggest humanitarian disasters of recent times. How aware of the long term impacts of this event were young people? Encourage them to research more about the island’s ongoing recovery and development.


This resource was written by PJ White of Alt 62 and published in October 2016.

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