Forty-five days remain until the start of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
Though much of government’s recent focus has centered on the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that the prime minister — the minister responsible for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) — advises the nation on the specific extent to which NEMA’s capacity will be adequately expanded and resourced to respond to this year’s season, and to the concomitant challenges the current public health emergency can create.
It is unknown how long the country’s first wave of outbreaks will last and whether additional surges may occur in the months ahead, which could in turn pose unique shelter management and emergency response difficulties against the backdrop of calls for social distancing.
U.S. experts have indicated that in the decision between emergency shelter use and remaining in unsafe locations to preserve social distance, gathering in shelters must be the exigent choice.
It is not publicly known how collaboration between NEMA and the Ministry of Health is being contemplated and mapped out ahead of June 1.
During Hurricane Dorian, both the quality and location of hurricane shelters throughout the country became the focus of scrutiny, as storm victims were forced to flee for their lives from shelters that either failed structurally, or were inundated with storm surge.
With no storm shelters built throughout the country in Dorian’s aftermath, and with regular shelter sites on Abaco and Grand Bahama out of commission or in need of repair, we could face similar potential dangers this year given that forecasters predict an above-average season.
As Dorian has taught us, it only takes one major hurricane within a season to leave a generational mark.
An update should also be provided on the progress of storm surge modeling for islands throughout the country, which is intended to guide NEMA on the formulation of evacuation orders and on shelter selection.
Thousands of Dorian victims remain homeless and jobless over seven months after the storm’s passage, with many still living in damaged structures.
They share in dilemmas faced by cash-strapped residents throughout the country, who will have spent sizable portions of their now diminished disposable income on maintenance during ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns — leaving them less able to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.
Ever present in our minds ought to be the tragedy of hundreds of Dorian victims who have yet to receive closure on the identities of those still housed in a refrigerated trailer on Abaco.
Indeed, this year’s hurricane season will invariably arrive with bereaved loved ones working to move on with their lives, having had the previous season rob them of their relatives and in many cases, the chance to lay them to rest.
This year’s landscape for disaster and humanitarian assistance meantime is demonstrably different leading into the upcoming season.
Major cruise lines, for example, provided millions in aid for Dorian evacuees and those in need of emergency food and supplies.
But the cruise industry has been dealt a crushing blow by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their commercial plans moving forward remain fluid.
Ultimately, the availability and scope of disaster assistance during the ongoing pandemic will hinge on factors including border protocols, travel restrictions and resources of aid groups and countries, both human and financial.
As this country’s policymakers and analysts continue to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the United States and our regional partners, it is hoped that all necessary resources will continue to be brought to bear to contain the disease and minimize loss of life.
Preparing for hurricane season while grappling with a pandemic will require a level of collaboration and cooperation in our country that will test capacities and resolve.
As with the fight against COVID-19, we can ill afford to fail in mitigation strategies ahead of this year’s season.