To be sure, the recovery for Grand Bahama and Abaco will be long, difficult and trying but if done well it will be rewarding. The storm came and it did a lot of damage. It ended maybe hundreds of lives, left thousands homeless, destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure and crippled two of the country’s major economic centers. What took years to build was virtually destroyed in a few heart-wrenching hours by Hurricane Dorian. Rebuilding that much development cannot be done in a matter of weeks or months; it will take years…many years.
Dominica is still struggling to rebuild following the passage of Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that devastated it on September 18, 2017, leaving fifteen people dead and many of its 73,000 inhabitants homeless. Puerto Rico, some seven hundred days following the same storm that hit Dominica, still has parts of the island without electricity, many homes unbuilt or repaired and its economy continuing to struggle; and it is a territory of the U.S., the most wealthy and powerful country in the world. Right here at home, Ragged Island, which was struck by Hurricane Irma, remains largely uninhabitable some twenty-four months after the devastation. Grand Bahama, seventeen-plus years following Frances, Jeanne and Wilma, was still struggling in the wake of those storms. The point is, territories devastated by hurricanes tend to have a long, hard road to recovery, no matter how that recovery is defined.
The recovery from Dorian will not only be long for Grand Bahama and Abaco, but for the entire Bahamas as well, as we all were and are affected by the suffering of those islands. This means that we must have expectations that reflect this difficult reality. It also means that, given that it will take time, we might as well do the recovery correctly. The government should be deliberate, thoughtful, considered and studied in its recovery effort. It should do all in its powers with its partners at home and abroad to make as comfortable as possible those displaced by the storm, but should not rush, in the interest of politics or political expedience, to do just any old thing. Recovery for us should mean building for resilience leading to long term rewards.
My greatest fear is that we, as Bahamians, will waste this crisis. That in our impatience we may fail to have the level of dialogue, planning and production necessary to make a better outcome, not only for Grand Bahama and Abaco, but for all The Bahamas in general. By putting our best minds together with those in other parts of the world, we can develop better disaster preparedness and recovery protocols. We might also be able to redevelop in ways that reduce the impact of future storms on life, limb and property. Shouldn’t we do this?
Our recovery should find us with evacuation plans that are much more clearly defined and effective. It should find us with post recovery procedures that are more precise and well resourced. We should find ourselves with buildings better able to withstand hurricane force winds and flooding. We might also want to build a national force of recovery capable souls – ready for most disasters. We must, in the end, build more resilient island economies.
We can do this. We must do this, and the hour in which we now find ourselves is calling on us to do so. In the face of failings, criticisms and confusion, we must press on to have the clarity of mind and precision of purpose to make ourselves a better nation. What can we do in that regard? In the forthcoming columns, I will put forth a few suggestions that may be helpful. Watch this space.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.