Finding adequate shelter for people affected by natural disasters or for first responders coming in to provide relief after such an event often creates a dilemma for Caribbean islands with their limited number of official shelters.
In response to this, the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Airbnb, which will see that organisation use its “Open Homes” policy to provide additional accommodation.
As he gave the background to the initiative, Executive Director of CDEMA Ronald Jackson said, “after the major hurricanes in 2017 that affected several of our member states, we recognised that we needed to provide more options for shelters, not only for people displaced by the storms, but for first responders as well, who presently have to share accommodation with some of the displaced people. What also happens is that these shelters, which are usually schools, community centres and churches, cannot keep evacuees indefinitely.”
Jackson mentioned that after Hurricane Irma destroyed Barbuda, “people who were brought into Antigua were all accommodated at that island’s national stadium, but imagine if we could have provided more comfortable housing solutions while Government took care of other matters like food and relief supplies.”
Head of Global Causes for Airbnb Kelly Bentz explained how her organisation alerted its hosts and guests when such events occurred, stating that the sharing of information was a key element in its operations.
“We have many locations across the United States and the Caribbean, and when disasters are looming, we send information to all of our guests and hosts, and let them know that the Open Homes programme has been activated. Through this programme, we provide free stays for those displaced or evacuated because of storms, as well as for first responders. This frees up the capacity in the official shelters, and we also give travel credits to companies and agencies who bring relief supplies in during the recovery process.”
She added that Open Homes was voluntary, and hosts could opt out if they had bookings for the same period or otherwise could not use their properties for that purpose. Jackson noted that the properties that were often used for Airbnb purposes were middle or upper-income homes, which had to meet certain standards in terms of storm resilience.
Jackson said the regional agency had learned many lessons from the major hits the Caribbean took in 2017, and among other things, was working on improving its telecommunications network. “In 2017 we started a rapid real-time review of our response in the field, and we spoke to the people affected as well as the members of the response and relief teams. We are putting together a telecommunications team, and we are launching a procurement to invest in further options, such as remote field access and having a hub network for the affected islands. The UK agency DFID and HEC Montreal have provided us with assistance, and the military forces from the UK, United States, Canada, Holland and France have helped us tremendously with logistics in terms of getting personnel and supplies into the affected areas.”
Neither of the two agencies disclosed the costs associated with the MOU but said it would be subjected to annual reviews from both parties while it was in place.