Storm victims hanging in the balance

If relevant authorities are unable to expedite an effective tracking and response mechanism for the thousands of Hurricane Dorian victims displaced from Abaco and Grand Bahama, lives would be left hanging in the balance and susceptible to the risks associated with homelessness, joblessness and displacement.

The plight of evacuees on New Providence made headlines this week after a local hotel ended its shelter agreement, leaving resident Abaco families with no place to go.

Among the families who said they registered with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) upon arrival to the nation’s capital were children, the handicapped and the elderly — the society’s most vulnerable groupings.

Ultimately, a group of Bahamians stepped in to assist and with the reported financing of a Canadian donor, the families will have housing for the next several months.

Last month, evacuees from Grand Bahama and Abaco spoke with this newspaper on the pains and challenges of finding employment and affordable housing.

Freeport evacuee Johanna Darling, 38, said, “I go to bed hungry most nights. [I] feel like there is no way out.”

Displaced Abaconians, meanwhile, have bemoaned that some landlords, when they learn that their would-be tenants are storm victims, raise their rental rates from what was previously agreed — further adding to the struggle to secure suitable accommodations.

When persons are pushed into desperate living situations, circumstances become rife for abuse and exploitation, particularly where children are involved.

The elderly and the handicapped are at greater risk of adverse health effects in the aftermath of natural disasters, particularly where displacement occurs, according to the World Health Organization.

At present, there does not appear to be an established post-disaster response system in place, which tracks how many people are displaced from both storm-ravaged islands, where they are residing, what their needs are and how to proactively address those needs.

If such a system was in place, Abaco families reaching the end of their local hotel stay may not have felt the need to contact the media for help in finding an alternative place to live while they work to get their lives back together.

Given the resource limitations of the Department of Social Services and apparent inertia resulting from the creation of a disaster response hierarchy parallel to NEMA, it is not surprising that some displaced residents are falling through the cracks.

Many Abaconians wish to return home but the lack of critical resources including electricity and schools remains a roadblock.

Central and South Abaco MP James Albury recently highlighted that housing is still a challenge on the island, pointing out, “There’s just not the housing available for people to return en masse.”

Two months ago, the government announced that dome homes would be erected as part of a Family Life Centre near Spring City, with Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis urging Abaco evacuees in the United States to return home to take up residence in the modular structures.

Every day a person suffers with disaster-related displacement is another day of psychological trauma, and each day residents remain away from their island, prolongs the reconstruction and restoration process.

This is why it was astounding to hear Disaster Relief and Reconstruction Committee Chairman John Michael Clarke tell the nation, over three months post-Dorian, that protocols had yet to be established for who will be permitted to live in the dome homes.

With government-run shelters in the capital set to close in a matter of weeks, if its stated Christmas deadline is to be met, hundreds with no income and no home to return to, will be in dire straits outside of a definitive and adequate housing plan that ought to have already been established.

For as many storm victims and their children whose stories make the headlines, there are many more who are no doubt struggling in ways we are unaware of and that we cannot imagine.

Too much is at stake if those who have already lost it all are left to fend for themselves.

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