An open letter to the prime minister

Dear Prime Minister Minnis,

Hurricane Dorian has been a wakeup call for our country. I was present at one of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) situation report meetings immediately after Dorian, where I gained a true understanding of the scale and magnitude of this climate disaster.

This morning, I read the national statement that you made at the July 2018 United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) forum on the “Transformation towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies Localizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

You announced to the world that we are in a “volatile hurricane zone” and acknowledged that as a people we have been “unable to respond as efficiently and effectively as required”.

You ended your statement with a call to action to strengthen partnerships at all levels “local, national, regional and international to secure technical expertise to address our increasingly collective challenges”.

I witnessed your emotive speech for residents to evacuate prior to Dorian touching land; your concern for the human lives in this monstrous storm’s path was clear.

The overwhelming challenges that you and your government have to guide us through post-Dorian is truly unimaginable. We have an enormous task of determining what will be required for us to rebuild and to ensure that our nation and our people are able to survive and thrive in the face of future storms.

You and other leaders of small island developing states (SIDS) have mentioned numerous times, that this is not something that we can do alone. In order for people in The Bahamas and other SIDS to survive in this period of global climate change, we have to take bold and radical action and believe that we can change the world.

Today, I am inviting you to work with me and the Cat Island Conservation Institute (CICI pronounced “SeaSea”).

In response to Hurricane Dorian, I founded CICI: a participatory science-research organization, comprised of over 60 thought leaders that hail from diverse backgrounds and are dedicated to improving the lives of Bahamian communities and our world.

CICI’s work is to record the story of the impact that our changing climate has on communities and the ecosystems in which they exist. Our participatory research focus allows us to inform governments and communities on specific vulnerabilities and translate this into climate action.

We are committed to taking bold and immediate steps to participate in the restructuring and reshaping of The Bahamas, and to support our government in fulfilling the many multilateral agreements, specifically those associated with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

One of the challenges in achieving the SDGs is that the indicators, as they exist at the moment, are generic and do not tell the story of what is actually happening within the communities, landscapes and seascapes of our island nation.

Hurricane Dorian has provided an opportunity for us to reflect on how we as a nation are prepared for natural disasters, particularly hurricanes.

It is critical for us to understand, document and learn from the damage that Hurricane Dorian (2019), Irma (2017), Matthew (2016), and Joaquin (2015) had on the land, seascapes, physical structures, and communities of The Bahamas, and it is vital that all stakeholders — local, national, regional and international, work together to ensure the development of new systems of building resilient island nations capable of adapting to our changing climate.

Therefore, CICI would value partnership and collaboration with the government of The Bahamas on the following issues:

Attendance and participation in CICI’s Rapid Response Hurricane Impact Stakeholders Workshop, sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on October 29, 2019.

The objective of the Rapid Response Hurricane Impact Stakeholders Workshop at the Grand Hyatt (Baha Mar) is to address these three key activities:

Explore the relationship between achieving the SDGs and building island resilience, particularly with the limitations and challenges posed by catastrophic hurricanes and climate disasters. This is vital because building climate resilient islands — which are able to survive future storms — will support us in achieving our SDG targets.

Present the Young Marine Explorers Participatory Science Model with data that reflects how Bahamian communities have been personally and professionally affected by hurricanes, and their thoughts on what is needed to survive future storms.

We need robust and quality data to inform current and future policy decisions, so that future storms, like Dorian, will not result in the same level of devastation to human lives, economies, culture and historical sites in our country.

Present the Climate Crisis Declaration and Policy Toolkit and identify opportunities to support and employ the toolkit within organizations across The Bahamas.

By declaring a climate crisis, we signal to the world that adapting to climate change is the top priority for our country.

We will solidify our role as a global leader and become the first small island developing state — at a national level — to make this declaration.

We can create a model to drive climate action among other small island developing states. It will position our country to change the narrative and drive negotiating pressure for increased climate financing, including compensation for current and future loss and damage from climate disasters, and accelerating modalities for debt swaps and carbon credits for climate adaptation and mitigation activities, all of which is required in a post-Dorian Bahamas.

Finally, it will show our commitment to working with our global community to develop long term systems and strategies to ensure that people living in small island nations around the world can continue to have islands to call home.

b) Developing a Community Driven Resilient Islands Research Program

Building on over a decade of community conservation and participatory science, CICI is committed to:

Establishing a collaborative partnership between the GOB, UNESCO, University of The Bahamas, and the University of the West Indies that will explore the concepts of creating island resilience to economic, social and environmental challenges driven by climate change. CICI and partner institutions will use a participatory lens to support activities.

c) Co-creation of a multi-purpose community center and hurricane shelter.

CICI has identified and received community buy-in to acquire land and develop a multipurpose hurricane shelter. We believe the following actions are critical to constructing this shelter and creating a model for structures and community spaces throughout our country that support the transition towards a more green, energy efficient and coastal resilient Bahamas. CICI looks forward to:

Collaborating on the co-design of a hurricane shelter and multipurpose community space that will also serve as the CICI campus on Cat Island. The design process will be done using a participatory planning model that brings together community members, professionals and others to give input and feedback throughout the entire design and implementation process.

Furthermore, I have been invited by UNESCO’s Small Island Developing States Department to co-host a side event at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) to share the work of the Cat Island Conservation Institute as a model for building climate resilience in island nations.

We formally submitted a proposal to the minister for the environment to co-host this event with us. It would be mutually beneficial for our country to show the collaborative and bold action that we have taken through strategic partnerships to improve climate resilience in the wake of a devastating hurricane, and to further amplify our voice and position as global leaders for climate action.

Dr. Minnis, as the leader of our country, I look forward to seeing the spirit and passion behind the #BahamasStrong hashtag embedded into every action and decision we take as a nation moving forward. The future of our country is dependent on the actions we take today and I look forward to partnering and working with our government to see this vision become a reality.

Kind regards,

Nikita Shiel-Rolle

Founder & CEO

Cat Island Conservation Institute

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