The INEE website has moved to You are currently viewing the static archive of the former INEE website, established in May 2019.

Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

EiE Crisis Spotlight: Hurricane Irma

Location of Crisis

Across the Caribbean and the United States


Timing of Crisis

Beginning on 30 August near the Cape Verde Islands, Hurricane Irma made its way across the Atlantic Ocean. On a 1 to 5 categorization scale and determined by the intensity of the sustained wind speeds, Irma has been classified as Category 5, being the highest. As one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, Irma’s path led to catastrophic damage to property, humans, and animals throughout the Caribbean as well as in the southeastern United States, causing flooding, landfalls, power outages, and water shortages. It has been downgraded to Category 1 over time.

Affected Populations

According to the report produced by OCHA ROLAC and its humanitarian partners, the entire (or nearly all) population of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Barthélemy and St. Martin, St. Kitts and Nevis, British Virgin Islands, United States Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Cuba have been affected, some countries such as Barbuda and St. Martin are nearly uninhabitable. Other affected areas include: Dominican Republic, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Atlanta. UNICEF estimates that “more than 10.5 million children live in Caribbean countries exposed to the damage of Hurricane Irma, including 3 million under the age of 5.”


Brief Description of the Situation

© Ramon Espinosa- AP
A family is walking through a flooded street in Havana, Cuba, symbolizing Irma's impact in the community.
Thousands have been displaced, evacuated from their homes, and placed in shelters. Irma’s death toll has risen since the outset of the disaster: 46 people were killed across the affected territories, including 11 in the United States. A number of U.S. territories and states have declared a state of emergency. Affected populations report severe food, water, sanitation and medicine shortages. Hospitals and pharmacies are also reported to have severely damaged and/or destroyed in some islands, such as in St. Martin.

A number of humanitarian and disaster management agencies are now responding and providing relief.  International institutions, such as the European Union, and other political organizations have allocated funds towards the rebuilding of specific Caribbean countries, but, as of the early months of 2018, rebuilding remained stagnant.

© News-Press
South Fort Myers High School in Florida was used as a shelter due to housing shortages.

Impact on Education

Nearly the entire infrastructure of Barbuda and St. Martin were demolished and 132 schools were destroyed. Communication networks were downed and utilities (e.g. electricity, cable) damaged, while some roads made impassable. 2,186 educational centers were damaged in Cuba, according to the situation report No.10. Many students lost their school materials, bags, and uniforms.

Most educational facilities were affected, and schooling was disrupted across the affected area. The Miami Herald reported that schools in Puerto Rico, Antigua and Anguilla, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Bahamas and some counties in Florida were closed.

As for early 2018, in Puerto Rico, some schools still lacked power and internet service after the combined impacts of Hurricane Maria and Irma. As a result, an estimated 22,000 students have migrated from Puerto Rico to the U.S. in search of better educational opportunities.

The Virgin Islands also experienced negative shifts in the education sector as some schools were only able to offer students 4 hours of learning each day. The building of modular units that were supposed to provide safe and accessible learning environments was halted due to the hurricane’s impact, as well.  The country’s Department of Education also faces brain drain, as about 80 teachers were reported to have left the field as a result of insufficient wages.

Due to housing shortages, schools were used as shelters by many communities in the Caribbean as well as in the United States, some are operating through double-shift arrangements to continue teaching activities. According to Theirworld, the government of Antigua and Barbuda are working together "to integrate more than 500 students from Barbuda into Antigua's public school system."

According to a local newspaper, breakfast and lunch will be provided to all students in nearly 50 school districts (3,000 schools) in Florida until October 20th through a federal program.

In September 2017, the European Union planned to allocate 16.8 million euros to Anguilla’s education and training sector through an education grant. Of the 16.8 million euros total, 2.8 million will be utilized to mitigate infrastructural damages within the Albena Lake-Hodge School, the only secondary school in Anguilla’s capital city, The Valley. Underpinning the Education and Training Sector Policy Support Programme, the grant will assist the country in creating more diverse primary, secondary, and technical and vocational education programs. It will bolster Anguilla’s Education Development Plan 2015-2020, while also focusing on the management of logistical and administrative aspects.


Education Actors Responding to the Crisis

Hurricane Irma destroyed Barbuda's only secondary school.
Frontline education actors include: UNICEF, Save the Children, CARE, and UNESCO.

CARE is working in Haiti and Cuba to provide assistance, including education, to the most affected.

UNICEF has planned to establish early childhood development (ECD) centres and alternative community spaces. Together with UNESCO and WHO, UNICEF began the "Return to Happiness" programme for children and youth to provide psychosocial support in the Caribbean.

UNICEF is also carrying out psychosocial support and social and emotional learning activities in the Eastern Caribbean.

IRC’s Miami and Tallahassee field offices are mobilized to inform their refugee clients about the impact of the disaster and help them find shelters.

In partnership with UNICEF, Save the Children is planning an education response in St. Martin/St. Maarten.

UNESCO is developing a teacher-centered project in Cuba that is focused on post-disaster psycho-pedagogical care.


Needs and challenges

According to the three-month Regional Response Plan, the immediate funding requirement for education is $1.4 million to provide life-saving and early recovery humanitarian intervention.

Reestablishment of schools and the continuation of schooling as well as the upgrading of their water, hygiene, and sanitation facilities are urgent needs for thousands of children and youth.

Psychosocial support for students, teachers, and all education professionals are needed.

Strengthening the capacity of care givers and parents through training on child protection, nutrition, and health is of particular importance.


Key Information Sources



To Make Donations:



Key words

Hurricane, Flooding, Destruction, Education, Emergency  


Help us keep this crisis spotlight profile up-to-date!

Please add your inputs and reactions by sending comments or a completed Crisis Spotlight template to [email protected]. Remember to provide reputable sources for all of your information. The EiE Crisis Spotlights team will review your submission prior to posting the information on the INEE website.