Minister of the Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira said yesterday that The Bahamas is in a climate crisis that will see the rise of intense hurricanes like Dorian, which devastated parts of the northern Bahamas earlier this month.
Ferreira made the comments as the government adopted the tenets of a Climate Crisis Declaration that was drafted by the Cat Island Conservation Institute.
“We acknowledge that we are in a national climate crisis and the country is facing a national climate emergency,” he said.
“We are committed to doing all that needs to be done to alleviate and remediate the effects of climate change and build resiliency for future events.”
He added, “…We are making this declaration and we’re saying, ‘Hey we’re going to lead this charge.’
“We’re going to lead it and make sure our voices are heard by the polluters, by the big emitters and we want citizens, our local citizens, to be more aware of their behavior, more aware of their activities.”
Ferreira said that there will be changes to the building code to improve resilience to hurricanes. Additionally, he said the government will have to ensure that there are enough shelters in suitable places that can withstand intense hurricane conditions.
“I can foresee changes to the building code,” he said.
“The building code, as it stands now, is set up for homes to withstand winds of 150 miles per hour (mph), but Dorian came and shattered that with gusts in excess of 220 mph. Obviously, that has to be revisited.
“…The ultimate goal is for an event like this to happen and there be no damage and no loss of life. That is the ultimate in resiliency right there. So, we have to get to that point. So, 150 mph winds, while it may have been suitable then, as we’ve progressed further and further into the 21st century and we expect these storms to be more frequent and more ferocious, we have to revisit it.”
Asked what the government will do to better prepare New Providence for the flooding associated with such strong storms, Ferreira said, “The way we combat that is to have suitable hurricane shelters and to make sure that they can withstand the ferocity, and for people to heed the warnings, to heed that evacuate means evacuate.
“And I know that it is very difficult to leave your home, to move out and be among strangers, but we prefer for you to be alive.”
A bill to introduce mandatory evacuations is expected to be tabled in the House of Assembly on October 2, according to Attorney General Carl Bethel. The bill will allow people in mandatory evacuation areas to be removed from their homes and taken to shelters.
Fifty-three people died during Hurricane Dorian, which hit Abaco, Grand Bahama and the surrounding cays, as a Category 5 storm. The death toll is expected to increase.
In the aftermath of the storm, stories emerged of residents on both islands fleeing their collapsing or flooded homes into shelters. Survivors said some shelters collapsed, injuring or killing people.
The wind speed was so ferocious, one man said it picked up his seven-year-old boy and flung him into the sea. There are also reports that the hood of a car was wrapped around a tree.
United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres warned last week that climate change will increase risks of devastating natural disasters.
“It is absolutely essential to create an international consensus that concessional financing needs to be put at the disposal of countries for the reconstruction and for the capacity to do that reconstruction, increasing the resilience of the societies, and of the communities and of the countries to future disasters that inevitably will come,” he said.