Disarray in hurricane recovery and restoration
Seven weeks after Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama, survivors are growing impatient. The government’s response has been disorganized, deficient and ineffective.
The most often heard complaint is that in the immediate aftermath of the storm, the central government was missing in action; then the government was slow to act and even at that point failed to coordinate its activities.
Families with missing family members are not satisfied that enough was done early to identify recovered bodies. The staggering difference between the number of the missing provided by the Minister of Social Services in Parliament last week (1,208) and the number released immediately thereafter by the Royal Bahamas Police Force (282) is cause for great pause; indeed concern and outrage.
The simple publication of the list of persons reported missing together with their place of residence pre-Dorian would go a long way towards instilling public confidence in the process. Had secrecy not surrounded the recovery of bodies after the storm, the government would not now have more than two scores of recovered unidentified bodies locked away in a refrigerated trailer.
On Abaco, grossly inadequate security arrangements were in place ahead of the storm and immediately after. The appointment of Commander Raymond King to lead the defense force on Abaco was welcomed but his more recent appointment to lead the defense force during the three-month vacation leave of Commodore Tellis Bethel dashes hopes for improvement on the ground. This sudden change gives credence to the view that there is disorganization in the government. Meanwhile, the appointment of a senior coordinating officer for the police force on Abaco remains outstanding.
The timelier opening of the two-year-old new port at Coopers’ Town, which was undamaged by the storm, would have speeded recovery and reconstruction efforts.
“Low hanging fruit” like the restoration of electricity to North Abaco, which was not badly damaged in the storm, would go a long way in satisfying some of the lingering dissatisfaction with the pace of storm recovery.
We were pleased to learn that Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) is planning the creation of small localized electricity sources in North Abaco and the cays, presumably each capable of later being integrated to the restored electrical grid.
Unfortunately, rather than augmenting the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) with additional financial and manpower support, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis appointed island coordinators and created a new, unstructured parallel agency.
In the case of Abaco, the individuals named as storm recovery coordinators were both Nassau-based. Only one has taken up residence there. The parliamentary secretary on Abaco appears to have no official role in the recovery process. Neither does the other Abaco member of Parliament, a former defense force officer with international experience in disaster response.
In the instance of Grand Bahama, the president of the Senate, a resident of that island, was appointed coordinator, seemingly side-lining the Cabinet minister for Grand Bahama who also lives on Grand Bahama.
Then, the prime minister created a new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery with a new minister of state within the Office of the Prime Minister. It has no budget and no staff – just a retired permanent secretary re-engaged on contract and a minister of state.
The government has been slow to start the recovery process. Essential public infrastructure is in shambles.
The government recently concluded agreements with several heavy equipment companies to clear debris from three devastated shantytowns on Abaco. Progress on that front is moving slowly. And, no clear plan has been announced for future use of areas being cleared or for replacement of permanent housing subdivisions less vulnerable to flooding.
Meanwhile, Bahamian residents in settlements in Central Abaco, including Marsh Harbour, Dundas Town and Murphy Town, and in East Grand Bahama await notification of arrangements to remove debris still clogging their towns seven weeks since the passing of the storm.
None of this bodes well for hurricane recovery.
Disarray best describes the government’s efforts to date.