Dorian’s deeper toll

As debate about Hurricane Dorian-related expenditures heats up and statistics and estimates of damage and loss inform arguments for and against response strategies, a most critical assessment is fading away from broad public focus — damage to the mental and physical well-being of thousands of Bahamians whose living and social conditions have seen little improvement over the past five months.

In an interview in this week’s National Review, Dundas Town, Abaco, resident Barbara Thurston said of her community’s stressful living conditions, “I believe the pressure of this thing is causing so many deaths… Do you know how many deaths [have] been in Abaco since the storm? People are dying.”

While we do not know how many post-storm deaths on Abaco have been directly or indirectly attributed to the impact of Dorian, if any, what we do know is substandard living conditions and the loss of loved ones, livelihood and security are a recipe for new and aggravated non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Last year, Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands told this newspaper’s weekly section Perspective that public health officials expected “an uptick” in strokes, heart attacks and other medical issues related to the impact of Dorian.

Just over a year before the storm’s landfall, Sands said healthcare costs associated with “current trends in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and cancers”, coupled with violence and infectious diseases, “will cripple” the country’s already struggling economy.

It would be instructive for the country to know current health statistics on incidences of stress-related illness and storm-related injuries inclusive of mold exposure in the aftermath of Dorian.

The cost of having significant segments of the country’s second and third most populated islands struggling with the after-effects of trauma does not show up in budget estimates and campaign speeches, but will leave no prospect for national development untouched.

What is important to recognize is the reconstruction phase of a natural disaster is a critical mental health period for victims, as this period involves the process of working through one’s grief and coming to terms with personal loss.

The reconstruction phase also involves victims navigating setbacks in the process of moving forward, which can be exacerbated by delays and by real or perceived encumbrances in acquiring necessary assistance.

The country’s Disaster Reconstruction Authority announced a February 10 start date for the acceptance of applications for its small home repair program, though it has not been indicated what the turnaround time from application to initial disbursement might be.

Desperate for assistance to repair their gutted and otherwise damaged homes, Grand Bahamians inundated government offices in Freeport well ahead of the announced start date in the hopes of receiving early consideration.

Meanwhile, after over five months of homelessness, there remains no published timeframe for the completion of dome housing at Spring City, Abaco, for the island’s displaced homeowners.

The pressure of displacement is added to the anguish experienced by bereaved families whose relatives are missing and presumed dead, and for whom they are unable to receive death certificates due to current statutory limitations.

The family remains the indispensable pillar of social stability in our country, and Dorian’s deeper toll on this institution will reverberate long after its passing, as husbands and wives and parents and children have been forced to separate because of damage to homes, schools and places of employment.

There is no romanticizing the toll on the psyche of a child who is abruptly uprooted from his or her place of security to unfamiliar surroundings away from close family and friends.

And there is no rationalizing the pain a parent feels in having to facilitate such a separation so as to ensure their child’s schooling can continue in as uninterrupted a fashion as possible.

Improving government response to Hurricane Dorian has importance that extends far beyond goals of obtaining political talking points or boosting one’s profile ahead of a general election.

Doing so is to more effectively alleviate the storm’s deeper toll on thousands of children, women and men in this country whose ongoing suffering, vulnerability and state of uncertainty weaken us all whether Dorian made landfall on our island or not.

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