WFP scaling back Abaco relief efforts

The World Food Programme (WFP), a branch of the United Nations that has been lending support in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, will be leaving The Bahamas by mid-December, the organization’s Deputy Emergency Coordinator Doug Mercado said.

In a report, dated November 28, WFP announced that it would begin scaling down its operations by December 3 – today – and handing over emergency support functions to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Mercado highlighted that the organization intends to phase out their operations responsibly so that there are no gaps left behind in the assistance they have been providing.

“We’ve been scaling back for the past few weeks or so,” he disclosed.

“When we came, we only came with the idea that we would be here for a limited period of time just to really help people through the worst of the disaster – the first few months.

“We planned to be here about three months, and now we’re at about the three month point.”

Mercado said that NEMA sought out their assistance prior to the storm in anticipation of the destruction that would be faced. As such, they have been in the country since just before the storm hit, operating out of a small office on New Providence as well as one on Abaco after the storm’s passage. He noted this was the first time WFP had been called in to assist The Bahamas.

“Normally, in any disaster, in any country, it’s the responsibility of the government to respond, and we just come in to provide complimentary assistance,” said Mercado, who has been doing disaster work for about 30 years.

“Whatever they can’t do because they’re overwhelmed, then we come in for a short period to help them, to make sure all the needs are met of the people affected.

“But at a certain point, things start to stabilize a bit, the worst is over.

“The worst period was in the month or two right after, so we were there for that. But now we see people are managing. They’re getting by, slowly things are getting put back into place with government and people and so forth.

“So in terms of the emergency response, we think we’ve done our job here.”

In addition to assistance with providing meals in the aftermath of the storm, WFP has also provided assistance with emergency telecommunications; coordination and logistics; and also shipping, trucking and warehouses – including mobile units on New Providence and Abaco that will be donated to NEMA for use in the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts which Mercado anticipates continuing for about another year.

“We’ll be donating that logistics hub…with the temporary warehousing and some equipment,” he said. 

“We’re donating that to NEMA.

“We’re not just packing everything up and going. We’re leaving things behind because we know there’s still needs to some extent, in terms of emergency assistance but also more for the longer term reconstruction.”

He added, “So it’s not like we’re washing our hands, I don’t want to give anybody that impression.

“We’re going to stay engaged… We’ll have regular communication, we’ll come as requested or needed by the government for any further follow-up activities.”

Mercado emphasized, “The Bahamas will never be alone. If help is needed, it will come.”

 Cash cards for Abaco residents

The organization also intends to introduce a value-based voucher on Abaco by mid-December. Mercado said that this is still in progress as they are negotiating with Maxwell’s supermarket. However, they “hope to finalize the contract within the next week or 10 days”.

“One final phase of our food assistance is that we’re going to distribute these cash vouchers on Abaco, just on Abaco…because other groups were handling food needs on Grand Bahama and Nassau,” he stated.

“So we’ve been focusing on Abaco, where there’s really significant need.”

He said WFP “prefers to give people some form of cash, so then they can go get their own food”.

“It gives people more choice, because when you’re picking up food from these distribution centers you can only take what’s at these distribution centers,” Mercado continued.

“There’s not a lot of choice – it’s significant and it’s efficient, but it takes away choice from people.

“But now with Maxwell’s opening, it’s a big, modern supermarket [and] people have a lot to choose from.

“In this case we’re going to give them cash vouchers. They’re like little cards, debit cards…fixed with a certain amount of money that they can then use and go and swipe at the cash register at Maxwell’s and then they can buy whatever they need, in terms of food and maybe some cleaning and hygiene materials as well.”

The amount of funds on each card will vary based on the household size and need, based on assessments which WFP is currently carrying out to “get a sense of who really could benefit most from this support”.

 Dorian is the strongest storm on record to hit The Bahamas. It has left 70 confirmed dead, at least 200 missing and hundreds more displaced, many living in shelters on New Providence which the government plans to close by the end of this month.

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