Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


Economic, Social and Environmental Consequences of Natural Hazards:
Hurricane Hugo in the British Virgin Islands

Note: This presentation was based upon a post Hurricane Hugo Assessment, focussing on Sustainable Development, prepared by Lynette Atwell for PAHO in December, 1993.

The study was required:

  1. Carry out a Post Hurricane Assessment in the BVI focussing on sustainable development issues.
  2. Identify the lessons of post disaster that resulted in development set backs.
  3. Recommend the most important mitigation measures that could be integrated in the country’s development trends for the future, including the identification of path ways for integrating disaster mitigation into the development process.

Hurricane Hugo was a Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds varying between 135 to 160 miles per hour, with its centre passing some 60 milers to the south of the BVI. Storm surge of 3 to 4 feet was experienced by the BVI and wave height activity of 9 to 12 feet was observed in some areas.

The Economic Consequences of Hurricane Hugo

The total dollar loss to the British Virgin Islands was $40 million dollars which exceeded the entire recurrent expenditure for 1989. Some indication of losses of agencies are indicated in Table I

Table I - Losses reported by Agencies/Government Departments Hurricane Hugo 1989


Amount of Loss


Agriculture Department


Loss to farmers
Fisheries Division


Compensation to Fishermen
National Parks Trust


Ports and Marine Services


Repairs and Replacement
Electricity Corporation Water and Sewerage Department


Loss of revenue not included
Telecommunications (Cable and Wireless)


26% of this cost was for replacement of external lives. Loss f revenue was not included in this cost
Health Department


Civil Aviation Department




30% of damage for built development


75% of damage was to roofs of buildings
Commercial Buildings




Repairs replacement of schools


Preliminary estimates for repairs to sea defence works
Marinas and Boats



The above figures represent costs for replacement of building, in these figures no account was taken of loss of revenue and therefore do not represent a full picture of losses incurred.

Impact on Employment

The impact on employment was felt most in the tourism industry, in that 231 persons lost their jobs from four hotels. This loss was compensated for by increase in construction activity after the hurricane.

The above is a summary of what happened, however, it does indicate what the problems are if there are no strong mechanisms in place for damage assessment after any hurricane.

Because the assessment was done four years after the fact, a great amount of information was no longer available.

The following were the categories of information which could not be included in the assessment:

  1. Loss of revenue
  2. Loss of tax because of job loss
  3. Loss of perishables (food in supermarkets etc.)
  4. Loss of man days from work - pre and post the event

Although all the figures were not available the amount of loss exceeded the entire recurrent expenditure of the BVI government for 1989, with total loss amounting to $35 - $40 million US.

Social Impacts

The major problems in this area arose because of damage to housing and a poor shelter management programme which did not adequately address the needs of the homeless.


One hundred persons were made homeless with 30% (960) of all of the housing units in the territory being damaged; 10% (96) of these dwelling units were severely damaged, that is with costs of $80,000 US and above.

The total damage estimated to dwelling units was $14,640,000. Much of the damage to housing was to the roofs, which amounted to 75% of all damage to housing..


Eight schools experienced damage with one having to be replaced. Much of the damage to schools was attributed to poor maintenance. There was serious disruption of children in affected schools as four schools had to be relocated while repairs were being carried out. Alternate school sites had to be found and children had to be transported to temporary schools.

Shelter Management

The shelter management programme did not work well after the hurricane. The main reasons for this were:

  1. There was no training of managers prior to Hugo.
  2. The shelters were unsafe and in some cases not well equipped
  3. Seventeen of the shelters could not be used as seven (7) were damaged and ten (10) were subject to flooding.

Environmental Impacts

Although there was an awareness of the need to record environmental impacts, no mechanisms were in place do so. As a result much of the reporting was qualitative in nature.

It was estimated that 40% of the mangrove area had been wind damaged, damage had been sustained on all coasts of Tortola and Beef Island with the greatest damage on the South coasts. Beaches had been eroded between 5 and 10 yards inland .

In reporting on this area some attempt was made by the agency responsible - the Conservation Department - to examine causative factors for the damage as well as to recommend mitigative measures.

The reasons cited for damage were:

  1. Sand mining
  2. Non protection of bulk heads
  3. Location of coastal roads

The mitigative measures recommended were:

  1. The existing 50ft building reserve from high water mark was inadequate and that the set back requirement should be revised.
  2. That any highway rebuilding should take into account Mean Seal Level (MSL) rise.
  3. That individual reclamations should be reviewed as many of them were not completed within a short time after approval resulting in environmental damage, from hurricanes, storms and heavy seas.
  4. That predicted sea level rise had implications for new reclamations and existing guidelines should be amended to affect this development.
  5. That sand mining in backshore areas should be prohibited in order to preserve beaches.
  6. That mangrove areas should be conserved

The above is a summary of economic, social and environmental consequences of natural hazards.

Reasons for Losses

There were a number of reasons why damage to build development and infrastructure were so great. These were:

  1. Poor development standards
  2. Lack of maintenance
  3. Location in vulnerable areas i.e. coastal areas, ridges, and exposed cliff surfaces.

Coastal areas are predictable impact areas for hurricanes, however in an island with limited land space development may have to be considered in areas which are not optimally suited for development. This would indicate the need for stringent development standards. In the case of the BVI, although development was located in areas that were considered vulnerable, no great attention had been paid to measures which would make development less vulnerable to wind and water damage. As a result some contributing factors to damage in coastal areas were because of extreme location to the sea, and because of the lack of observance of minimal building lines and building standards.


Based upon the outcome of the assessment a number of recommendations were made for the inclusion of mitigation measures in the development planning process.

The major recommendations were:

  1. That a sub committee of the disaster management board be created to elaborate mitigation policies and to ensure that these policies into the national development planning process.
  2. That legislation (environmental and planning) be reviewed to reflect requirements for mitigation measures.
  3. That disaster mitigation focal points be established in all agencies with responsibility for coordination and development of mitigation policies and programmes for their departments.
  4. That the disaster Agency should be part of the plan formulation process with reference to the use of hazard information for economic, environmental and spatial development.
  5. That a Building Code should be adopted for the territory.
  6. That a Hazard and Risk Assessment proposal outlined by the Office of Disaster Preparedness should be treated as a priority project for BVI.

Some of the recommendations were implemented and the Hazard and Risk Assessment Study has been completed.

CDMP home page: Project Contacts Page Last Updated: 20 April 2001