Resiliency against future storms

There are now just over six months remaining before the start of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

If it is the government’s intention to have the country move toward greater resiliency in its building code and disaster response modalities, tangible steps in this regard must soon come to bear.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian’s devastation visited on Abaco and Grand Bahama, government ministers urged residents to “build more resiliently” given that superstorms are likely to be the new normal for The Bahamas.

But speeches and press conferences are not actionable policies and procedures that are to govern the reconstruction process on these islands and overall construction moving forward.

In the absence of a delineated national plan that guides and instructs on what it means to build more resiliently in the context of assessed risks to The Bahamas, builders, homeowners and stakeholders have nothing to work with other than existing frameworks and systems of oversight.

When Hurricane Maria destroyed 85 percent of the island nation of Dominica in 2017 causing the loss of 226 percent of the country’s GDP, its government moved to prepare for future climate disasters through passage the following year of its Climate Resilience Act.

According to the act, which created the Climate Resilience Execution Agency of Dominica (CREAD), the agency would work to “rebuild Dominica as the first climate resilient nation in accordance with a single Climate Resilience and Recovery Plan developed by the Commonwealth of Dominica and its partners”.

The objectives of the legislation include ensuring that structures damaged or destroyed during a climate-related disaster are reconstructed or restored to a state “better than its state before the occurrence of that disaster”.

Though The Bahamas government has legislated the creation of a Disaster Reconstruction Authority, the legislation does not articulate a national building plan in light of the effects of climate change and sea-level rise, nor does it indicate what level of resources would be provided to ensure that all new construction is carried out to existing building codes.

The authority, which requires a yet-to-be announced board of directors to operate, has yet to start its work, in any event, and is, therefore, not overseeing reconstruction efforts as mandated under the act that governs it.

Displaced homeowners, many of whom were uninsured or underinsured and are anxious to return to their structures, are carrying out repairs and rebuilding as they know how and in line with what they can afford via the help of laborers who may not be skilled at the tasks at hand.

While conjecture has been put to homeowners on the possibility of new zoning stipulations that could restrict reconstruction in certain locations, the obvious issue of land ownership would need to be addressed.

As such, even if hurricane-ravaged houses were built on properties in either low-lying or coastline areas, homeowners who want to return to their communities plan to rebuild in these locations again.

For them there is currently no viable alternative than to rebuild on the properties they own.

Given the integral role that the Ministry of Public Works would play in the development of a national climate resiliency plan moving forward, it was interesting to hear its minister, Desmond Bannister, give his personal view this past weekend that The Mudd in Abaco could become a “wonderful commercial area in the heart of Marsh Harbour”.

This comment was interesting because The Mudd is low-lying land that would require levels of fortification the minister made no reference to when stating his view.

Surely land already zoned for commercial development in Abaco and that is otherwise at higher elevations than The Mudd would serve as more climate-resilient considerations for the island.

After suffering staggering losses from the impact of a Category 5 hurricane, Dominica rose to the occasion to chart a meaningful path to resiliency in the region.

Time is of the essence for The Bahamas to chart its path.

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