Govt must have a standardized process for missing and dead following hurricanes, IDB says

The government should move to create a standardized process for the registration of missing and deceased people in the aftermath of a hurricane, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) said, noting that it received different figures from the police and the Department of Social Services following Hurricane Dorian.

“There should also be the standardization of the registration of missing and deceased persons,” it said in its recent report, “Assessment of the Effects and Impacts of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas”.

“The assessment team received different official figures of the number of persons unaccounted for and the number of deceased persons, as the Department of Social Services had different reports to the Royal Bahamian Police Force (RBPF).

“It was understood by the assessment team that the Department of Social Services instituted a missing persons phone hotline and missing persons help desk across New Providence and the impacted islands, but the figures coming out of this process were different from police records.

“According to the Ministry of [National] Security, the official missing and deceased persons list is the responsibility of the police, as the latter requires a coroner’s declaration.”

The report said inter-institutional coordination and data sharing is “highly encouraged, especially when dealing with something as emotionally sensitive as missing people and deaths after an event”.

“In such sensitive cases, it is commendable to have several input points to collect information, but it is highly recommended to establish cooperation and interoperability protocols to channel all the information into one coherent and official database,” it said.

The report noted that the number of missing people may have been underreported.

“As is possible in an event of this magnitude in the Caribbean, it should be noted that there may also be some underreporting as the assessment team was informed that many people left The Bahamas to go to other countries, as well as the large number of undocumented migrants that may not have come forward to report missing relatives for fear of repercussions for their irregular status,” it said.

The official death toll of Hurricane Dorian, more than a year later, is 76. Earlier this year, there was confusion over the number of people still listed as missing. 

During a Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) press conference in May, Assistant Commissioner of Police Solomon Cash said 33 people were reported as missing. However, former Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands later questioned why thousands of names of people reported missing immediately after Dorian were removed from the official list after police took responsibility.

“While the majority of Bahamians have returned to their ordinary lives following the storm, many from Grand Bahama and especially from Abaco continue in states of suspended animation,” Sands said in June.

“We must empathize with them because they have certainly had their lives shattered.

“As of today, we do not know, collectively, who is lost, missing, or missing and presumed dead.

“I fear that we have not sufficiently elevated this matter as a national priority.”

Minister of National Security Marvin Dames later responded and said 279 people were missing.

Dames said he could not say why police recently said the figure was 33 and said people should not get “fixated” on the issue.

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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