Abaco is the nation’s third-largest economic center, having accomplished that milestone following years of record growth that were a testament both to the hardworking, entrepreneurial spirit of Abaconians and targeted government initiatives.
In the aftermath of Dorian where untold numbers perished and thousands were left homeless and jobless, Abaconians have been working as best they can to pick up the pieces and rebuild their shattered lives, communities and economy.
However, as residents focus their attention on progress in the aftermath of tragedy, it is lack of focus by government agencies that is delivering for Abaco less than what is necessary for sustained growth, and far less than this critical part of our country deserves.
Last week, the Disaster Reconstruction Authority issued a press statement seeking to dispel social media reports regarding the amount of money spent on hurricane domes now under construction near Spring City.
According to the authority, $4 million has been committed thus far for “the purchase of 250 domes; the preparation of the land for the domes; the purchase of equipment related to the installation; the installation of infrastructure for the domes; and operation of the family relief center”.
It is the installation of these domes, acquired from the US-based company InterShelter according to the authority, that is a cause of concern for residents and ought to be addressed by authorities.
In defense of the cost of the domes (which the authority did not itemize when providing its $4 million figure), it stressed that the cost when compared to similarly designed domes was due to the domes being designed “to withstand hurricane-force winds of 200-plus miles per hour”.
Based on published installation specifications for InterShelter’s domes, the domes must be bolted to a concrete base in order to create “an indestructible storm shelter” capable of withstanding winds of up to 200 miles per hour.
The domes at the Abaco site are assembled on top of floating wooden decks and not bolted to a concrete base, and without a flooring system for the domes, occupants would be living in structures exposed to the elements beneath.
Given the on-site installation method, it is not publicly known what category of wind speed the domes at the Abaco site can safely withstand.
Nearly five months in and yet unoccupied, it is doubtful whether the purchase of these domes represented value for money.
It seems Abaconians would have been better served if the allocated funds were directed to providing immediate home repair assistance to displaced residents, given that many homes sustained varying degrees of roof damage that once repaired, could have put residents back into their homes; enabling them to in turn house others.
Insult to injury was added to the island’s slowly rebounding economy when the Ministry of Tourism, in its recent post-Dorian marketing campaign, omitted Abaco from its promoted offerings.
It was a decision Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar has since apologized for, but that it happened at all speaks to a disconcerting lack of focus in ensuring that Abaco’s businesses have the requisite government support necessary to successfully rebound and provide employment.
When in response to resident outrage Central and South Abaco MP James Albury — the parliamentary secretary in Abaco’s Office of the Prime Minister —took to social media to condemn the move and to state his being unaware of the decision, it offered troubling insight into how little government collaboration is taking place for Abaco’s necessary recovery.
True to the Abaco spirit, residents are creating online portals of their own to make prospective visitors aware of the hotels and businesses on the island that are open and ready to serve.
Blog sites such as littlehousebytheferry.com currently have listings including 17 resorts and vacation rental properties, three marinas, 21 restaurants, six taxi services, six car rental services and 18 attractions, tours and guides.
If Green Turtle Cay resident Amanda Diedrick through the use of this blog site can collate these offerings onto one central location for prospective guests, certainly the Ministry of Tourism’s heavily resourced machinery could have put focused attention to crafting a situationally-suitable marketing campaign for Abaco.
The same was done for Grand Bahama in Dorian’s aftermath; Abaco should have received no less.
As with Grand Bahama, The Bahamas needs Abaco to realize as rapid a recovery as only a focused government can facilitate.
Thousands of displaced Bahamians and the nation’s prospects for future economic growth depend on it.