What happens when the NGOs leave?

For close to three months, The Bahamas has benefitted immeasurably from the post-Dorian resources, donations and on-the-ground support of agencies, donors and volunteers from the region and around the world, with the work of U.S.-based NGOs continuing in Abaco and Grand Bahama’s storm-ravaged areas.

But the service of these NGOs must come to an end and has already culminated in some instances, leaving immediate voids for storm victims that not only require government funding to fill, but a skilled, coordinated government ground response that picks up from where the NGOs depart.

Thousands from both islands remain displaced and jobless with little to no resources of their own to rebuild their lives as critical basic services stand in need of repair and reconstruction.

It is a concern that was expressed by Abaco’s Chamber of Commerce President Kenneth Hutton earlier this week, who indicated that with the wrap up of work by disaster response NGO Team Rubicon and the impending end of feeding work by World Central Kitchen, uncertainty looms.

As of October 28, World Central Kitchen, founded by Chef José Andrés and his wife, Patricia, said it had served 1.5 million meals in The Bahamas since the passage of Hurricane Dorian via the establishment of 250 delivery locations and a kitchen on New Providence, Abaco and Grand Bahama utilizing the work of local chefs and kitchen volunteers.

NGOs in the hard-hit areas of east Grand Bahama are providing temporary employment, clean-up, materials and rebuilding assistance as well as support for mold remediation throughout the island in conjunction with local firms.

The reconstruction and restoration of both islands is now the legislated responsibility of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, but recent statements by its State Minister Iram Lewis have exemplified why residents of both islands are legitimately concerned about what lies ahead.

Lewis told reporters that he is still awaiting Cabinet’s approval to appoint the Authority’s Board of Directors, whose responsibility it is to carry out the agency’s functions which include assessment of reconstruction needs, arrangement of monetary distribution for reconstruction, oversight of the restoration of government services and management of the reconstruction process.

That Cabinet has not yet assented to the appointment of the Authority’s board though the needs on Abaco and Grand Bahama are pressing and protracted, gives credence to worries that even now, the government has not sufficiently focused itself on the disaster’s aftereffects and what it needs to do to meet the needs of the tens of thousands impacted from both islands who have survived and been put on a path to thrive through the help of foreign aid.

In Freeport, extensive flooding at the Rand Memorial Hospital – the island’s only hospital – rendered approximately 75 percent of the facility inoperable, resulting in the closure of its intensive care, operating room, wards, surgery and administrative services.

U.S.-based NGO, Samaritan’s Purse, established a field hospital adjacent to the Rand, but will end its service to the island in March 2020.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands has said his Ministry hopes to have the island’s hospital restored by that time.

Samaritan’s Purse has also been critical in providing potable drinking water at depots on Grand Bahama given that the island’s water company, the Grand Bahama Utility Company, does not have its own resources to return the island’s city water to potability following extensive salt intrusion at its water wells.

For the country’s part, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest announced yesterday that due to Dorian’s effects, The Bahamas is not projected to be back on track fiscally until at least 2024, which is two years after the end of the current administration’s term.

He advised that $182.7 million will be allocated this budget year for recurrent expenses including landfill operations for cleanup, food assistance programs and unemployment benefits.

An additional $100 million in capital spending is anticipated for “restoration of water and electricity in Abaco and Grand Bahama, the provision of temporary housing, vehicle replacement, and other repairs to critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and clinics on the storm-ridden islands”.

As time goes on and families remain homeless, separated and void of employment, needs become more entrenched beyond feeding lines.

Whether the necessary collaboration, skill and effort will be put to bear to ensure effective response to those needs as NGOs make their departure, remains to be seen.

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