It has been over two weeks since Hurricane Dorian decimated large portions of the islands of the Bahamas, most notably the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama. Dorian was the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas, and the islands were besieged by rains from Hurricane Humberto before recovery had gotten much underway.
Recovery from major storms is often a long, lingering process, and there is every expectation that it will be no different in this case. The official death toll is currently around 50, although that is expected to climb, and more than 70,000 people have been displaced.
As with most natural disasters, individuals and businesses are keen to help in the aftermath. Tourism accounts for about half of the Bahamas’ GDP, and businesses in that sector have been quick to step in to help out.
Companies like Atlantis are playing a significant role: pledging $3 million (together with Paradise Island and Brookfield Asset Management), creating a donation site, and providing space for Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen to operate, enabling the group to provide thousands of meals like they did in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
The major cruise lines are also stepping up. Disney, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Norwegian are all pledging at least $1 million in addition to in-kind assistance, like meals, bottles of water and generators.
The Bahamas are only 50 miles off the coast of Florida (Puerto Rico, for comparison, is about 1,000 miles from Miami), and many Florida businesses are contributing to the relief effort. Proximity and the shared experience of living through a devastating hurricane (not to mention that the state was in the initial predicted pathway of the storm) must certainly make the state feel the urge to help. Florida Blue, the state’s leading health insurance company, is contributing $150,000 to relief efforts. Further, several supermarkets in Florida have set up customer donation sites, and Publix, a regional supermarket chain based in Lakeland, Florida, has pledged $250,000 in addition to any customer donations.
While people are, and should be, the most pressing relief priority, some attention has started to turn to the toll the storm took on the electric power infrastructure of the islands. North Abaco, in particular, suffered from devastating destruction, including power grid losses, damage to transmission and distribution infrastructure, and at least one power station completely destroyed. A similar scenario played out in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and has resulted in a plan for an almost wholesale restructuring of the power sector, including grid resilience and rebuilding using more clean energy. The utility sector of the Bahamas could be facing some similar calls as relief turns into rebuilding, and many utilities in the United States and elsewhere have extensive experience to advise and assist.
Rebuilding systems so that they are more sustainable and resilient in the long term will continue to be of increasing importance. With climate change likely bringing more intense storms, and more communities facing resilience issues in the face of such storms, rebuilding both power and water infrastructure as well as natural infrastructure, such as wetlands, mangrove forests, barrier islands, and reefs, will be imperative. Hurricane Dorian was the 5th Category 5 storm in four years, and there is talk that a sixth category should be added due to the increasing intensity of recent storms.
The 2019 hurricane season still has over a month to go, and two active named storms are currently churning in the Atlantic. At some point, individuals and companies will tap out in what they can give to victim relief from storm after storm. Resilient systems should be baked into every rebuilding effort after every storm. The climate is changing, and so must the way industries and governments renew themselves in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Wiki Commons
Kate is a writer and policy wonk, with a focus on water, clean energy, climate change and environmental security. She spent over a decade running energy-water nexus and energy efficiency programs at Environmental Defense Fund as well as time at the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and state and federal legislatures. She serves as an Advisory Board member of CleanTX, which aims to accelerate the growth of the clean tech industry in Texas.