There are very few moments in a country’s history when its people’s strength, resilience, and faith are truly tested.
Undoubtedly, for my fellow countrymen and women, this day came on September 1, 2019, when Hurricane Dorian brought The Bahamas to its knees.
Central Abaco and Grand Bahama were left decimated as winds gusted more than 200 mph, storm surges swelled as high as 25 feet, and rainfall amassed to more than twenty inches! Then, as if its fury was not enough, Dorian moved along the spine of Grand Bahama at one mile per hour, subjecting the low-lying island to 41 hours of intense hurricane-force conditions.
Facing the ferocity of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne at age nine ignited my interest and passion for disasters. I’ve experienced the impacts of ten tropical systems, with Hurricane Dorian changing the landscape of my community and country.
Because of this new reality and my experience working at the local and national level in the disaster management space in my home country, I am currently pursuing doctoral studies in Emergency Management and Disaster Science at North Dakota State University. In doing so, I hope to enhance my country’s research, legislative and policy agenda in this space.
In July 2019, while finishing my master’s thesis, I founded the Bahamas Climate Change Campaign, an organization to raise awareness of this multifaceted threat across the length and breadth of my nation. Who would have thought that less than four months later, a beast fueled by climate change would have left its mark on my country?
The Bahamas Climate Change Campaign not only seeks to inform Bahamians of threats like ocean acidification, sea-level rise, and stronger hurricanes but to inspire advocacy and agency.
The campaign’s slogan, “80 in 80,” addresses a harsh reality: In 80 years, The Bahamas is at risk of losing nearly 80 percent of its landmass due to its low elevation and sea-level rise.
Our collective experience of Hurricane Dorian underlined how much we, as Bahamians, are impacted by climate change, as a country, and as a community. Hurricane Dorian affected every part of the nation’s socioeconomic sector.
It is estimated that the damage incurred by Hurricane Dorian swelled at $3.4 billion, over one-quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. Grand Bahama and Abaco, the second and third largest economies of the Bahamas, were left crippled.
Regarding human settlement, Hurricane Dorian marked the most extensive mass care event in the history of the modern Bahamas.
Thousands of homes and government facilities were devastated.
In the health care sector, the main hospital in Grand Bahama, the second-largest in The Bahamas, is the Rand Memorial Hospital. Unfortunately, the institution suffered severe damage and loss of equipment from storm surge and flooding, leaving it handicapped for two years.
The impacts in the education, telecommunication, electricity, and utility sectors mirror the aforementioned losses.
Hurricane Dorian reminded The Bahamas government that we are indeed in a war to secure our nation’s sustainability and longevity. Consequently, on September 23, 2019, just twenty days after the passage of Hurricane Dorian, the Government of The Bahamas formed the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction and Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA).
The country is making various legislative and policy-related progress in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. However, there is much work to be done when considering the vulnerability and fragility of our developing nation.
Losses and damages resulting from various tropical cycles have detrimental impacts on countries like The Bahamas in meeting varied sustainable development goals.
The unmatched strength of Hurricane Dorian reminded us of the alarming warming of sea surface temperatures. Between 2015 and 2019, five major hurricanes traversed through or near The Bahamas.
Hurricanes Mathew, Irma, Joaquin, Maria, and Dorian resulted in over $10 billion in damages. Indeed, trends of this nature are linked to climate change.
Therefore, it is essential that COP 26 reaffirms and enhances its commitment to various parties on loss and damages.
The history of loss and damages in the context of UNFCCC dates back to 1991 when the Alliance of Small Island States called for a mechanism that would compensate countries affected by sea-level rise. Nearly three decades later, small island developing states continue to plead for enhanced action in this regard.
The longevity and sustainability of countries like The Bahamas, Vanuatu, Barbados, Tuvalu, and Dominica depend on these conversations and enhanced action. We can no longer think about resilience with a nationalistic lens. Instead, we must adopt a collective approach to bring about meaningful progress.
COVID-19 has reminded us of this fundamental premise. Phenomenal American author, activist, and lecturer Helen Keller penned it best when she wrote, “Alone we can do so little, but together, we can do so much.”