The impact of climate change on Bahamians’ mental health is the primary focus of the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) Climate Change and Health Project’s ongoing “Knowledge, Attitude, and Practice (KAP) Survey”.
Senior Medical Officer and Project Coordinator Dr. Calae Philippe and Senior Health Officer Dr. William Hamilton, who head the team, hosted two town meetings on Grand Bahama last month, to emphasize to residents the importance of participating in the survey.
“It is vital because it will help us understand where people are with their knowledge, attitude, and practice as it relates to climate change,” Philippe said.
The study, which was launched on October 3, asks residents to answer 34 questions relating to health, gender, awareness, feeling and response to climate change.
Philippe explained that from the compiled information, the committee will be able to determine what percentage of the population understands climate change and to develop a national educational and training program.
Climate change, which can best be described as long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns, has become a worldwide topic of much concern in the past decade, hitting close to home for Bahamians in 2019 following Hurricane Dorian.
The deadly, devastating storm saw residents of Abaco and Grand Bahama experiencing historically high storm surges for the first time in decades, the loss of businesses and homes in the hundreds, and left many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Last week, Bahamians were jolted by the prospect of the first November hurricane in four decades, as Nicole developed rapidly and strengthened as it headed toward the northern islands.
According to Philippe, the survey itself also serves as a learning tool.
“The participants will learn the connection between climate change and health.
“They’ll learn some of the practices that they should be doing and start to think they can make a difference in addressing climate change.
“The survey will also help enlighten Bahamians on adaptation and mitigation, and that is what we want people to walk away with – recognizing that we will have more hurricanes and are they prepared.”
It is the goal of the MOHW to get 100,000 people to complete the survey, which can be accessed online at https://bit.ly/BahamasKAP.
“Once we gather this information, we will analyze the data and do a national training and education campaign for those in Grand Bahama and Abaco first, as our pilots, due to them being heavily impacted by Dorian,” Hamilton said.
Noting that the 2019 storm was a difficult experience for thousands of residents, he said people impacted both directly and indirectly are affected mentally.
“Dorian is still relatively fresh in people’s mind,” Hamilton said.
“The psychological impact is still very fresh, and we find that many people did not get the necessary healing they needed. So, from a health standpoint, those are a few observations I’ve made while visiting and speaking with residents of Grand Bahama and Abaco.”
Hamilton said it is important for people to know that climate change is here, and it is real.
“We go through the impact of climate change, and we go through it very heavily in extreme weather events such as hurricanes,” he said.
“So, we need to impress upon people that climate change is manifesting in other ways – in our health sector, food, water, and energy security.”
Hamilton noted that education is the only way to win against climate change.
“It is present, it is not going anywhere sometime soon, and so we owe it to ourselves to empower the populace now,” he said.
Former National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Coordinator for Grand Bahama Tammi Mitchell said the survey allows residents to have input on what they see happening with climate change.
“It also gives us an opportunity to share in what we can do as a community or as an island to further protect ourselves against climate change,” she added.
Mitchell stressed that it is crucial for residents to remain knowledgeable about what is happening as it relates to climate change.
“So, I encourage persons to take the survey, keep abreast of what is going on with climate change in our country and how it is impacting us,” she said.
“Without knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, we cannot protect ourselves.”
The survey was conducted in October in two phases.
The first phase targeted healthcare providers and civil workers. Phase two focuses on the general public.
According to Philippe, the information gathered from the survey is being used as part of the Bahamian government’s discussion at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, which is underway in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, until November 18.
Philippe was among the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Philip Davis at COP27. One hundred and ninety-six countries are attending the conference which began on November 6.
“This is just the beginning,” she said.
“The end goal (of the survey) is to disseminate information to the length and breadth of The Bahamas.”