CI Shorts: Bahamas builds back after the hurricane
The Bahamas is still picking up the pieces, months after a hurricane that was the worst natural disaster in its history. Category five Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in September 2019, devastating the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama. Being made up of 700 islands, its recovery process has been more complex than in other Caribbean territories, but it has risen to the challenge with a multi-faceted approach.
Caribbean Intelligence has been taking an in-depth look at the Bahamas, where 2020 got under way with a fresh round of funding promises, rebuilding and tourism promotion:
- A Hurricane Dorian Pledging Conference in January led to governments, NGOs, multilateral institutions, companies and individuals pledging US$1.5bn in recovery funding and services in kind for the Bahamas. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said: “These pledges are an important step in the ongoing reconstruction and rebuilding of areas affected by Hurricane Dorian, so that we may rebuild stronger and with more resilience.”
- At the end of January, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest tabled two resolutions in the House of Assembly to borrow US/Bhm$587.9 million to finance Hurricane Dorian recovery efforts. The money is being sought from the Caribbean Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and other sources. It will be used to cover lost revenue from Dorian and help build climate change resilience against future natural disasters.
- Outside of official funding, novel ways of raising support for post-Dorian Bahamas included an offer by Airbnb giving people a two-month sabbatical in the Bahamas to promote the environment. Those selected will visit three islands not affected by Hurricane Dorian and work on projects ranging from coral reef restoration and setting up new farms to boat building. The Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust, Eric Carey, said that the Airbnb work with his organisation would show that the Bahamas is “open for business” and pursue ways to “share our diverse country and the Bahamian way of life with the world”.
- The country’s Tourism & Aviation Ministry reported in January that the country had achieved a record-breaking seven million visitors in 2019 - the highest number of arrivals by air and sea in the Bahamas’s history. It attributed its success to agile marketing and aggressive PR, among other things. Bahamian tourism officials had been quick to talk to the media in countries such as the US and Canada, where large numbers of tourists come from, pointing out that while two islands had been badly hit by Dorian, many more were unscathed. They had also pointed out that visiting would be the best way to help the entire country get back on its feet. “We look forward to building upon the success of our marketing efforts and continuing the momentum in 2020 as we show the world that the Bahamas continues to be Open For Business and has so much to offer visitors,” said the Minister of Tourism & Aviation, Dionisio D’Aguilar.
- Not all the marketing has gone to plan. The initial removal of one of the most devastated areas, the Abaco Islands, from the country’s tourism website, angered one local businessman, who complained to the government and to the media. When the Bahamas Tribune checked in mid-January, links on the Bahamas tourism website led those clicking on Abaco to a hurricane relief information area. “In fact, a lot of us are here working to rebuild, and those that are not are waiting for infrastructure and our schools to be rebuilt, so we can bring our families home... One must ask with trepidation if the government of the Bahamas is looking to shut Abaco out and tear us down even further,” said Michael Dillon, President of Abaco Yacht & Charter Services, in a letter to the minister of tourism that was shared with the country’s press. His complaint seemed to have worked. A check by Caribbean Intelligence at the end of January indicated a portal on the Bahamas tourism website entitled “The Abacos – Our Road to Recovery”. The entry page [see photo above] stated: “This much-loved Out Island is hard at work restoring its breathtaking natural beauty. Today, we’re pleased to update our friends on our progress. Already, hotels, beach resorts, and fishing lodges are reopening, welcoming guests to some of the world’s best boating, sailing, diving and bonefishing.”
Elbow Reef Lighthouse: In operation since 1864, this Hope Town landmark in the Abacos is the very last kerosene burning, hand-wound lighthouse in the world:
- Florida news outlet WLRN sent a reporter on a bus tour of Great Abaco Island, which it described as “beautiful but scarred from the seemingly endless hours of winds and water from Hurricane Dorian in September”. It said that there were few residents, as they no longer have homes there, and it added that clearing debris had become the current challenge. The managing director of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, Katherine Smith, told WLRN: “Four months later, I think the Bahamas is doing a halfway decent job. But we can always improve where we are and that’s what the authority intends to do.” She added: “One of the big priorities is this debris clean-up. Nobody had ever experienced this before. So for the first crack at it, as a country, I think there was a lot of shock. Initially, maybe decisions were slow in [the] making, because you had to get over the initial shock you had to deal with.”