Hurricane Dorian has left a massive trail of death and destruction in the Bahamas – a country in which several Guyanese have made their home over the years in search of better opportunities. The Category 5 hurricane has left widespread and extensive destruction with many homes, businesses and other buildings completely or partially destroyed.
The International Red Cross estimates that 45% of homes on Grand Bahama and the Abacos – some 13,000 properties – were severely damaged or destroyed. According to the BBC report, the Island of Great Abaco is virtually uninhabitable, with bodies piled up, no water, power, or food, and militias formed to prevent looting. Aerial images over the Abacos showed mile upon mile of destruction, with roofs torn off, scattered debris, overturned cars, shipping containers and boats, and high water levels.
Even more worrying is the fact that the death toll continues to climb and is expected to rise further in the coming days as the dust from Dorian begins to settle. As it presently stands, the official death toll is approximately 30. According to a BBC report, officials are sending morticians and body bags to the Abaco Islands, the worst-hit part of the archipelago. There are reports that hundreds, possibly thousands, are still missing in the Abacos and Grand Bahama.
This devastation has triggered a worldwide show of solidarity as countries lend support to the island via various means. Governments around the Caribbean, including Guyana, have since activated response mechanisms to facilitate assistance and support to those affected. It was reported in the media that the Prime Ministers of St Lucia and Barbados are currently in The Bahamas to hold talks with Bahamian Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis about relief efforts.
The Rapid Needs Assessment Team (RNAT) located in Bahamas has prepared a pre-impact analysis, in collaboration with the national lead agencies, which is currently being reviewed by the Government of Bahamas through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Certainly, the magnitude of reconstruction will require significant levels of financing which would be difficult for countries in the region alone to generate. Hence regional governments, through Caricom, may want to consider organising a donor conference, with support from the United Nations to raise the necessary finances to help the people of the Bahamas get back on their feet. The pledges and other forms of technical support garnered from this donor conference will go a far way in helping the hurricane-ravaged country recover from such massive damages.
That said, it is a fact that the world has become a more dangerous place for its inhabitants who are becoming more vulnerable to disasters. Natural disasters result in years of development efforts often being wiped out in days or even minutes; as we have seen in the case of the Bahamas a few days ago.
Here in Guyana, we are seeing a dramatic rise in the construction of buildings and other infrastructure, with most of it occurring in the coastal areas of the country, especially in the capital city. This is so despite the fact that our entire coastland is threatened whenever it rains excessively or in cases of extreme high tides; the 2005 floods readily comes to mind. One can only hope that the authorities are monitoring to ensure that the appropriate building codes etc are being adhered to.
The lessons to be learnt from what occurred recently in the Bahamas are many. The underlying one is that we must always seek to build smart. The Bahamas is a country that boasts of constructing buildings which adhere to strict building codes and which could withstand certain natural disasters, but Hurricane Dorian was proven to be very powerful.
Experts have predicted that more frequent and extreme weather linked to climate change like hurricanes and severe flooding will occur more often. While we cannot prevent natural disasters from occurring, we can certainly prepare better so that the impact is reduced. Surely, the decisions we make today will determine our long-term resilience to natural hazards and be critical to people’s well-being in the short and long term.