Emergency dome shelters failed those left homeless

Following Hurricane Dorian, some $9 million dollars cash was donated to the Hurricane Dorian Relief Fund.

The number and size of the donation reflected the genuine outpouring of support for the victims of the hurricane.

Since the early 1990s, such donations have assisted uninsured and low-income families with repairing, rebuilding and replacing owner-occupied homes damaged or destroyed by summer hurricanes as was done following hurricanes Andrew, Floyd, Irene, Joaquin, and Matthew.

This time, however, some $6 million of the donated funds was used to acquire domes to temporarily house those left homeless. The vast majority of the domes remain in crates, never having been assembled.

While some assistance was provided to owners of uninsured houses, most persons living in the storm zone have had to rely on the support of family and friends living outside of the storm zone, and the generosity of winter residents and other friends of The Bahamas who provided building supplies, and sometimes labor, to repair hurricane-damaged residences.

Following Dorian, government clinics and schools on Abaco were also repaired by winter residents and foreign friends of The Bahamas.

Only 30 of some 200 domes acquired were erected at what was supposed to be the Spring City Family Relief Centre on Abaco. Poorly assembled, the units leaked and developed mold. Now declared unfit for habitation by the minister of transport and housing, residents have been ordered to vacate all of them.

Last week, local heavy equipment operators, contracted by the government to demolish the structures, began their work only to be stopped by the prime minister in response to protests that residents of the domes had nowhere else to go.

Both of Abaco’s members of Parliament, both resident on Abaco, and both members of the governing party, oppose the demolition recognizing the lack of alternative shelter on the island.

The policy to build temporary emergency housing was ill-considered and badly planned from its inception. Its implementation and management have remained unfocused over the past two years.

The Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA), a good concept, if properly structured and resourced with staff and funding, was created after Hurricane Dorian.

Critical decisions regarding cleanup of hurricane debris and the purchase and construction of temporary housing domes in a Family Relief Centre predated the creation of the DRA.

Once established, the DRA’s primary role was debris removal. Only minimal financial assistance was dedicated to small home repair.

Twelve months of a new government administration has not brought useful and effective solutions to the housing crisis created by Dorian.

There are two distinct housing needs on Abaco. Firstly, satisfying the unmet need for permanent housing for those left homeless by the storm but who cannot afford to replace their homes. And secondly, assisting those financially able to construct or rebuild their homes with easy access to properly serviced lots in defined subdivisions.

A new government housing subdivision in which dwellings are constructed for sale by the government does not satisfy either need. With the vast acreage of Crown land available, new utility services subdivisions can be accommodated adjacent to Spring City.

We suggest that rather than demolishing domes at that site, the government consider useful, even profitable, use of the unassembled domes to create temporary man-camps for laborers engaged in reconstruction work. Experience gained will assist in the future use of the domes as temporary emergency shelters following national disasters.

Further, the government must give immediate attention to coordinating the repair and restoration of public infrastructure on Abaco and Grand Bahama, without which, recovery will continue to be frustrated. Among the first orders of the day ought to be the reconstruction of the Abaco sea and air ports and the Grand Bahama International Airport facilities.

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