by Wendy Sanassee
It’s been more than 3 months since Hurricane Matthew struck Les Anglais, and the community has started reconstruction by doing whatever possible to get their lives back on track. We thought our supporters would like an update on how the community is faring. The storm severely damaged homes and businesses in Les Anglais. All of Enèji Pwòp’s 450 customers were affected but to differing degrees. To assess the damage to the community and gauge when homes would be rebuilt and ready for connection to the grid, we carried out a door-to-door survey at the end of 2016. We talked to 84% of our customers to assess the level to which they were impacted and gather information on the state of remaining structures, the state of remaining electrical components, and energy access needs in the aftermath of Matthew.
Results indicated that over 85% of customers still had at least part of two rooms and a roof intact in their structure. This was either because their homes had only been partially destroyed by the storm or because they had been able to at least partially reconstruct their structures with scrap metal and donated tarps. Before the storm, most houses were made with concrete blocks and rocks for walls and metal sheets for roofs but the combination of those three materials have shown a low resistance to the category 4 hurricane. Another observation: most pf the affected houses faced the coast and had suffered either from the storm surge or were directly exposed to the wind gusts coming from the sea because of their location. About 12% of our customers were still displaced from their house at the time of the survey. Of those 12%, over 90% have the firm intention of going back to their pre-Matthew housing and about 4% will not. The likelihood of the customers returning to their previous housing appears to be directly related to the house owner’s ability to obtain the financial resources to rebuild.
Rebuilding is an essential prerequisite for customers' reconnection when grid service is restored in Les Anglais. Many people would like to rebuild with concrete to be better prepared for the next big storm, but in reality metal sheets are much more likely to be used because they are more affordable, easily sourced locally and easier to install. Because of this, most customers (72%) plan to re-roof with metal sheets compared to only 14% using concrete as the main reconstruction material.
The survey was also designed to find out how the components and materials used for connection to the grid fared. Given the extent of the storm's damage in the town, the survey results were surprisingly positive. On average, the components’ survival rate was about 69%. The remaining materials were either blown away during the storm or were intact but damaged. The most robust component of the home wiring installation was the breaker box (85.4%) and 67.5% of the SparkMeters were reported to still be in good condition. We are currently carrying out individual testing to find out which meters can still be used.
The population of Les Anglais is “thirsty for electricity”, as they phrase it. Even though phone charging stations exist, they are considered insufficient and have been identified as the greatest power needs, with over 90% of the respondents asking for this service. Ice is another commodity that is wanted but limited in Les Anglais as it requires a freezer and ultimately a generator and diesel to operate. Lighting is also an issue and solar lamps that were distributed by Enèji Pwòp proved to be the main source of lighting to many customers (37%), followed by kerosene lamps (36.1%).
"Electricity is addictive," explained one survey respondent, "Once one has access to it, one struggles without it." The Les Anglais community is struggling to adapt to the temporary absence of grid power by reverting to kerosene and candles for lighting. People are paying third parties for services such as phone charging that, with grid power, they used to have in their own homes. Customers expressed they are anxious to have Enèji Pwòp electricity back in Les Anglais. While they were initially afraid we would leave the community after the storm, these fears were assuaged when they saw the field team at work gathering downed materials and holding community meetings.