While acknowledging that Barbados had ‘dodged a bullet’, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said she is heartbroken by what she has seen of the “unreal” devastation in the northern Bahamas.
She said: “The truth is that it is absolutely unreal, when you consider that potentially those two islands are responsible for just under 25 per cent of the population and within those two islands the level of devastation that has been wrought, those families who have lost everything is utterly, utterly horrific.
But Mottley also brought a message of hope to stricken Bahamians, and sought to assure Bahamians that the people of Barbados are paying especially close attention to the hurricane-ravaged archipelago and pledge their support.
She said: “The good news is that we are a resilient people in the Caribbean and I have every confidence that the Bahamian people will be able to build back and build back better and we certainly will work with them to be able to do that.”
She made the comments during a tour by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Bureau of Grand Bahama and the Abaco islands in the wake of Hurricane Dorian – the most powerful cyclone to rip through the northernmost CARICOM member state. The Bureau, a sub-committee of the Conference of Heads of Government, is made up of the incoming, incumbent and outgoing members of the community’s rotating chairmanship.
Mottley, who is to take up the chairmanship of CARICOM in January, was joined on the tour this morning by the current chairman, St Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque, Caribbean Development Bank president Dr William Smith and Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Ronald Jackson.
By day’s end, the death toll had risen to 30, as Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands warned that the count could soon jump sharply. In an interview on US cable television Thursday night, the prominent physician acknowledged a “slow” but methodical process of confirming and counting the dead, as tales reached reporters of scores of bodies drowned, swept out to sea and crushed in crumbling buildings.
Following the tour, Prime Minister Mottley told Bahamian state television ZNS: “I call the last two weekends ‘The Tale of Dorian,’ because you will recall this Sunday and Monday it hit you, but the Sunday and Monday before it started with us and therefore the people of Barbados feel particularly sensitive to what is going on here in the Bahamas because they themselves know that but for the grace of God, go I.”
Hours before leaving Barbados by private jet, Mottley revealed a national telethon would be held on Sunday to raise funds for the Bahamas.
She stressed that the most effective form of Caribbean resources in the early stages of the relief and recovery from the crisis is cash donation.
She maintained that the logistics of moving goods to the stricken islands is a “little too complex and we have therefore asked CDEMA to set up a special account too”, adding that the Barbados “Government will play its part too”.
“The reality is this is the new norm for us in the region,” the Prime Minister remarked.
She added: “The first order of business is stabilization and whatever they need once they do the full assessment we in the region are ready to help.
“We therefore will wait [for] the assessment of the CDEMA and Bahamian Government and see how best to play.”
Said CDEMA chief Jackson: “We recognize that there is going to be quite a bit of work that is needed to rebuild those communities and CDEMA continues to pledge its support.”
Following the tour, CDB president Smith revealed that two million dollars (US$1 million) would be allocated to the devastated island.
The CDB today disbursed $400,000 (US$200,000) as an Emergency Relief Grant to the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency for humanitarian assistance and has set aside a further $1.5 million (US$750,000) in an ‘immediate response’ loan to assist with the clean-up and short-term recovery.
Dr Smith said: “We are devastated by the loss of life and infrastructure in Bahamas, hit by the strongest storm ever recorded in the archipelago.
“The Caribbean Development Bank stands ready to support the people of the Bahamas to make quick recovery.
“Countless houses, medical facilities and roads were destroyed or are under water, and the number of lives lost is still rising.
“The devastation is a stark reminder that climate change is real and a major threat to our region.
“Our region needs to build better and stronger in order to minimize damage and mitigate future losses.”
Among the support offered, the CDB president pledged the bank’s assistance with the restoration of essential services on the affected islands, including water and sanitation, and through the re-purposing of available balances from other loans for priority recovery projects in the power and education sectors.
The CDB also said it plans to scale up assistance to provide mental health and psychosocial support in the aftermath of disasters, under a joint project with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
PAHO, the regional arm of the World Health Organisation, also announced it would be lending assistance to the Bahamas.
Dr Esther de Gourville, PAHO’s representative in the Bahamas today revealed that the organizations would be focusing on clinical care to save the lives of the hurricane’s survivors and keeping them safe.
PAHO also pledged health sector infrastructure and public health support and is conducting needs and damage assessments with the Bahamian Ministry of Health.
“Clearly it is a desperate situation for some persons on Abaco,” Dr de Gourville said, “and PAHO is working with the Ministry of Health and emergency teams to help those who survived secure food supplies, safe drinking water and sanitation.”
She revealed that PAHO had pre-deployed water and sanitation experts and health services experts to the Bahamas before Hurricane Dorian struck.