Monday, Dec 9, 2019
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The end of the storm season

The Atlantic hurricane season closes on Friday. At its end, the minds of the Caribbean people will take some rest.

This year has been calmer than 2017. Climate change has made the seas hotter. In 2017, we witnessed storms of record intensity. Irma reached Category 5 strength. Its maximum sustained winds peaked at 185 miles per hour and remained there for a record 37 consecutive hours. Maria reached Category 5 intensity in record time, nearly overnight.

These storms left catastrophic damage in Dominica, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Barbuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Ragged Island.

The Caribbean is familiar with hurricanes. We are in a hurricane zone. What was different in 2017 was storm intensity and their destructive power.

Places where the people of our region lived were so damaged that normal life was not possible for some time. Billions of dollars will have to be spent to fully rebuild.

Residents of New Providence were lucky for some time. We were hit directly by a major storm, Matthew, in 2016 for the first time in nearly 90 years. The experience took away the nonchalance toward hurricanes too many had on our main island. Most Bahamians now realize that it is possible for any of our islands to take a direct hit.

Across the region we must plan differently to meet the threat. Hurricanes in the age of climate change are existential threats to small island states. Ad hoc responses are insufficient.

Our policymakers should prepare for how we would handle the worst-case scenario. What if a Category 5 storm hit New Providence and Grand Bahama? What would we do before its arrival? What would we do after?

The prime minister promised to examine these issues after seeing the devastation of the 2017 super-storms. The government has restored its disaster insurance and is creating a disaster relief fund. More is needed, however.

The one thing we should not do is expect rich countries to save us. The United States had to deal with Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017 either on the mainland or on its territories. The British, French and Dutch had Caribbean colonies also that were devastated by storms that year. They had to scramble to give aid.

The U.S. and Europeans were criticized for their responses. In the future when their territories are under threat at the same time as us, they would only have limited capacity to help.

We are virtually done with storms for 2018. We should use the time between now and next season to be ready for the worst. Being prepared is the best defense against storms.

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