Funding disaster recovery efforts going forward

While it is important to find money now to help Bahamians rebuild and recover from the unprecedented impact of Hurricane Dorian, the experience of the past few years – Joaquin in 2015, Matthew in 2016, Irma in 2017 and now Dorian –  indicates that we need, as a country, to create a permanent hurricane fund to recover from damage caused by tropical cyclones going forward.

Climate change has raised sea temperatures. Warm oceans fuel hurricanes. Concern surrounding the deleterious effects of climate change led countries to sign the Paris agreement in 2016, which seeks to prevent the global temperature from rising two degrees Celsius.

It is unclear if we have merely been unlucky these past few years, or if we are in a new phase where our islands are more likely to be hit by stronger storms. Taking into consideration a possible increased threat, the government would be wise to set up a hurricane fund with an initial capital injection and future contributions. A small percentage of national budget expenditure could be added to it each year going forward.

That amount could be one percent or two percent, or whatever experts think is reasonable to ensure the fund grows and is capable of providing the money needed when storms hit and cause damage.

The key here would be that the government must show discipline and not touch the money for other reasons. The National Insurance Fund is supposed to be our social safety net. However, over the years, successive governments have used it as the “government building fund”. They have erected buildings for the state, which on paper are investments, but in truth are not.

Yes, these are hard times, but if we have money for all the ministerial travel that is taking place, if we have money to pay all the foreign consultants to tell us things we already know, then surely we have money to set aside for the natural disasters.

What if a Category 5 storm had hit the entire archipelago? How much would that recovery cost? Where would we find the money? Would we be able to borrow enough to restore our islands? We must plan ahead through investing our own money in taking care of ourselves now and into the future.

Let’s not wait for a bigger one to hit.

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