The Bahamas is rising above the storm

| January 2, 2020 | 0 Comments
This image shows what was left of homes in Marsh Harbour, a town in Abaco Islands, after Hurricane Dorian hit in September 2019. (Photo: Government of Bahamas)

This image shows what was left of homes in Marsh Harbour, a town in Abaco Islands, after Hurricane Dorian hit in September 2019. (Photo: Government of Bahamas)

Packing winds of 295 kilometres per hour, Hurricane Dorian was the most intense tropical cyclone on record to strike The Bahamas, making landfall in the Abacos Islands at its peak intensity. The world held its breath as Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane, stalled over Grand Bahama, with its unrelenting winds, for 36 hours.
Since the beginning of accurate satellite measurements in 1983, only 7 per cent of the 243 hurricanes observed have reached Category 5 intensity, making them extremely rare. Winds this strong would make Hurricane Dorian worthy of a Category 6 rating; or category “HELL” according to António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations (UN). The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, however, stops at Category 5, with average wind speeds of at least 252 kilometres per hour.
The resultant damage to the two islands was catastrophic. The Abacos were left without power, water, telecommunications and sewage services. About 90 per cent of the infrastructure in Marsh Harbour was damaged, including the Marsh Harbour International Airport, which was rendered non-operational for several days. Grand Bahama experienced an island-wide power outage with 60 per cent of the island submerged as of Sept. 3, 2019. As Hurricane Dorian veered away from Grand Bahama, damage assessment estimates began coming in. Thousands of residents had been displaced, while commercial and industrial properties, schools and hospitals had been decimated. According to Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, reconstruction could amount to “hundreds of millions, if not billions” of dollars.
The devastation of Hurricane Dorian continued to unfold as people began desperately searching for missing loved ones. By the end of October 2019, the official death toll stood at 65, with hundreds still reported missing. However, the rising and receding ocean water swept away bodies, making the search nearly impossible. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security continues to assist The Bahamas with the identification of displaced persons.
The Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) activated its emergency response plan immediately. It provided shelters and aid distribution warehouses in Freeport and strengthened co-ordination with numerous non-governmental organizations and local volunteers.
The international community was not insensitive to the tragic fate of The Bahamas and the response from governments and inter-governmental organizations was rapid. The Canadian Disaster Assistance Team, including experts from Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces, was deployed to The Bahamas. Additionally, the federal government provided the Canadian Red Cross with $500,000 for Hurricane Dorian relief assistance. The Bahamian diaspora was also quick to respond. Monetary donations as well as relief supplies flowed in.
The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency deployed and led two rapid needs assessment teams to Nassau, which supported the assessment of the most affected islands and took the lead in the regional response mechanism. CDEMA received the financial support of the British government, which had set aside $2.5 million to fund rescue efforts. Britain also sent experts from its international development department and its foreign and consular office team as well as the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay, which delivered supplies to affected areas.
The U.S. also came to the rescue by deploying the U.S. Coast Guard to assist in air rescue and transport in the affected areas. The United States Agency for International Development has also been providing significant relief assistance.
Additionally, at the time of writing, numerous successful fundraising events have been organized, with proceeds going towards Hurricane Dorian relief efforts.
A little over a month after the devastation, Grand Bahama had recovered significant electrical and telecommunication service.
In Abaco, with the assistance of Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation, power has been restored in some areas. Additionally, much progress has been made on the debris removal process, as all roads and bridges have been cleared and made usable. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis stated that government workers will establish a family relief centre, comprised of 250 dome structures that will include plumbing, drainage, a sewer system and electricity at an estimated cost of $6.4 million. This will make it possible for residents to return and begin the process of rebuilding. It is the country’s desire to rebuild The Abacos and the Abaco Cays stronger and more resilient in the face of the threats from climate change, including stronger hurricanes and rising sea levels.
In September of last year, Minnis announced the creation of the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction. Its mandate is oversight of recovery efforts in The Bahamas. Minnis designated The Abacos, eastern Grand Bahama and other impacted areas as special economic recovery zones, providing tax incentives for three years.
During the UN General Assembly in September, The Bahamas’ tragedy figured prominently in the speeches of numerous country leaders. The general sentiment was that Hurricane Dorian was a preview of the natural disasters that would eventually become the norm if climate change is not addressed urgently. In his presentation to the General Assembly, Minnis urged his fellow world leaders to treat the climate crisis as the greatest challenge to the planet, stating: “It is a challenge that, if not treated with the greatest urgency, will continue to ravage small island states, such as The Bahamas, and will also have a devastating impact on more developed states.”
Amidst the well-deserved attention given The Abacos and Grand Bahama, the world needs to be reminded that The Bahamas is an archipelago of more than 700 islands extending over nearly 14,000 square kilometres, stretching from south Florida to north Cuba. The country consists of 14 additional main island destinations that were not affected by the storm and are very much open for tourism and other economic activities. With the exception of The Abacos, the Out Islands are open and operating as usual. Some resorts and lodges take a fall break for annual leave or renewal projects, but there are many options for accommodations. Airports, seaports and marinas are open across the islands. As for Grand Bahama Island, it is back in business, welcoming travellers at its cruise port. Ferries and cruise lines, including Balearia, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line are bringing travellers to Freeport to experience a number of excursions. The airport is operating domestic flights via temporary facilities, and, at the time of writing, it was projected that the airport was expected to welcome its first international flight in November. Numerous hotels and resorts are open or are expected to reopen soon.
With about 60 per cent of its revenue coming directly or indirectly from tourism, this sector has become the largest driver of economic activity in The Bahamas. Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar recently noted that “More than ever, we need you to come on vacation; the best way to donate is to visit, come to our hotels, go to our restaurants, go on excursions, visit the Exumas and the swimming pigs.” This is the kind of support that The Bahamas is seeking today, not only to give a much-needed boost to its economy, but also to remind people that The Bahamas remains a paradise despite the ravages caused by Hurricane Dorian.

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Category: Diplomatica

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