PM: Dorian and COVID-19 threaten to widen inequalities

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said COVID-19 “destroyed” the Bahamian economy, as he addressed the World Health Assembly virtually yesterday.

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Minnis said the pandemic, which came on the heels of Hurricane Dorian, threatens to “widen inequalities” in The Bahamas.

“The Bahamas wishes to bring to your attention the health challenges we continue to overcome and the dire economic situation that is upon us as a primarily tourism-based economy,” he said.

“At least 50 percent of our [gross domestic product] GDP is derived from tourism, which employs directly or indirectly up to 60 percent of the working population. Last September, we experienced Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic in recorded history, which ravaged our second and third most populous islands and economic centers.

“Now, COVID-19 has closed our borders and destroyed our tourism-dependent economy. Economic recovery is halted even as we prepare for the impending hurricane season in our region, which began on June 1 and extends to November 30.

“The twin unprecedented events of Hurricane Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to destabilize our health response and our public health gains. The Bahamas is a far-flung archipelago with many rural areas requiring us to replicate basic healthcare and social services in a geographic area, which extends from South Florida in the United States to the tip of north Cuba.

“These two seismic events threaten to widen inequalities and increase the burden of noncommunicable diseases.”

Shortly after The Bahamas recorded its first case of the novel coronavirus in March, the government moved quickly to slow the spread of the virus. A state of emergency was declared, non-essential businesses were ordered closed, a curfew was imposed and social distancing measures were implemented.

Thousands of Bahamians were laid off almost overnight.

As he asked for help yesterday, Minnis also pleaded with the international community to reconsider the metrics it uses to determine which countries receive aid.

“For many years, The Bahamas and countries with similar characteristics, have urged an alternative to per capita gross national income as the sole indicator of a country’s level of development and eligibility for concessionary financing,” he said.

Minnis added, “In this vein, as we request assistance to address COVID-19 in The Bahamas and in other small island states, we urge the international community to adopt and to appreciate a broader understanding of the developmental levels and the unique local circumstances in our states.”

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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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