Hurricane Dorian blindsided me. As the monster storm traveled in the Atlantic, I was in the Solomon Islands, a small archipelagic country in the Pacific. I was, quite literally, on the other side of the world – and utterly oblivious to the seriousness of what The Abacos and Grand Bahama were about to encounter.
Historically, every time a hurricane was in The Bahamas, I struggled to find relevant updates on CNN or the BBC. The Bahamas is so close to the United States; international media coverage is usually the preparations underway in Florida as they brace from the storm or storm damage in more southern islands in the Caribbean.
But media outlets across the globe were featuring Hurricane Dorian. So that was my first clue that something was different.
The reality of the situation hit me hard when I got back to London.
By then, Dorian had set upon The Abacos, and the news that was trickling out was grim. Then, for the next two seemingly endless days and nights, Dorian unleashed hell on Grand Bahama, the island where I was born and raised, where my family and friends live, where my heart will always be.
I had a ball of nerves in the pit of my stomach that I could not shake until the storm moved on. I was tired and jet-lagged but could not sleep. Instead, I was glued to my phone, desperate for news and updates. I felt sick and helpless, scrolling through the many WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts, each with its own heart-breaking stories, photos, and videos.
Reading Sheena Butler-Young’s beautiful post reassured me that my feelings were similar to many in the Bahamian diaspora around the world – especially Abaconians and Grand Bahamians.
We were all impacted by Dorian from a distance.
I have not been back since Dorian, and while COVID-19 has a role to play, a part of me knows that Grand Bahama is not the same anymore, and I’m afraid of what I’ll find.
What helped me when I felt most fatalistic was the perspective that my work in international development provides. I know that the challenges of The Bahamas are the challenges of many small states all around the world.
So while I could not cook meals for rescue workers and displaced people like Tammy Quant-Moss did, save people from their homes like d’Sean Smith did, or do the countless other heroic and generous acts that this platform highlights, I did what my talents allowed.
I wrote a blog to draw attention to The Bahamas’ vulnerability and to call for more support from the international community for building resilience in small countries.
A month after Dorian, I attended a panel discussion on resilience in small states in Washington D.C. While some of the details of the event are a little fuzzy now, I will never forget the speech from Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica. He spoke of the devastation that category 5 Hurricane Maria unleashed on his country in 2017.
Naturally, coming fresh off Dorian, his words hit me differently. However, what struck me most was the fact that Maria was a collective experience for Dominica – touching everyone from the Prime Minister to the man selling mangos by the roadside.
The storm inspired a collective will to make serious, lasting change. As a result, the country is rethinking its entire approach to development, not simply looking to repair and rebuild as quickly as possible. Dominica wants to become the world’s first climate-resilient country – and has developed a whole-of-government strategy for achieving this goal.
I left that meeting wondering whether Dorian would serve as a catalyst for meaningful, impactful change in The Bahamas. However, I feared that the answer was no. While Dorian was no less traumatic, unlike Maria, it was not a universal experience for The Bahamas.
Yes, everyone in the country was saddened by the loss of life and property on Grand Bahama and The Abacos. But, “He who feels it knows.”
I suspected that as time moved on, life would return to normal in the rest of the country, leaving Grand Bahama and The Abacos to pick up the pieces – as they had many times before.
When Grand Bahama and The Abacos were in crisis, local people helped each other. Imagine what a force each island could be if we were truly empowered to address our needs.
I have long been a proponent of strong and effective local government – especially in a country boasting 700 islands, rocks, and cays. Events like Dorian drive this belief home even more.
We need a properly-funded local government on every island, including New Providence, so voters can make decisions based on what is good for the country rather than what an MP is doing for their particular constituencies.
Members of parliament should focus on national issues – like debating laws and running government ministries – while local government officials tend to the specific needs of a local community.
Enabling local power for local solutions can potentially alter the tone of general elections – and allow true debate on meaningful, impactful changes for the country.
We should not let the experience of Dorian go to waste. Rather, it must serve as a catalyst for change throughout The Bahamas.
Heather Cover-Kus is a Grand Bahama native living in Europe, where she serves as an economic development professional working at Commonwealth Secretariat. This small islander in a big city is self-described as thinking big thoughts and doing small deeds. Follow her on Twitter @CoverKus.