By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas is just 17 percent prepared to cope with major disasters, an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report highlighting its "low progress" despite exposure to hurricanes.
The multilateral lender, using its iGOPP governance and public policy index to measure The Bahamas' readiness, rated this nation as weak in virtually all aspects of disaster preparation, management and response.
Its assessment, conducted last year, found this nation had made "very limited progress" in disaster recovery planning and needed extra financial protection to reduce "its fiscal vulnerability against the occurrence of disasters".
The Bahamas received 12 percent and 13 percent scores in these two areas, respectively, and earned just six percent for "risk identification and knowledge". It fared slightly better with 15 percent for its disaster risk management governance framework, and performed best on "risk reduction" and "disaster preparedness" with 22 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
"The results of the iGOPP application in The Bahamas show a general progress level of 17.44 percent, which places the country in the 'low' range of advance," the IDB report revealed.
"The analysis of the results by component of disaster risk management (DRM) public policy reveals that 'disaster preparedness' is the most advanced component, reaching 37 percent of compliance, considered as an 'incipient" progress' according to the iGOPP classification.
"In the same level of progress is placed the 'Risk reduction' component, with a 22 percent compliance. In a range considered as 'low progress' fall the rest of the components, with 'general framework of governance for DRM' reaching 15 percent, followed by 'financial protection' and 'Post-Disaster Recovery Planning' components, with a 13 percent and 12 percent compliance respectively."
The IDB's findings suggest that the Bahamas is woefully ill-prepared to cope with a major hurricane strike that directly hits its major population centres, Hurricane Matthew having provided an insight into how devastating this might be.
It also underscores warnings by K P Turnquest, the Deputy Prime Minister, that the Bahamas is just one such hurricane away from fiscal disaster, given the strained Public Treasury and lack of existing financial protection for government assets and many businesses/private citizens.
Mr Turnquest, though, will likely argue that the Bahamas' 'financial protection' score should now be higher following the Government's agreement with the IDB to provide up to $100m in contingent emergency funding should disaster strike.
The Government has also re-negotiated the Bahamas' insurance policy with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Fund (CCRIF) to divide this nation into three zones, thereby increasing its chances of obtaining a much larger payout following major hurricanes.
Yet the IDB report warned: "It is important to underscore that The Bahamas currently lacks a legal framework for comprehensive disaster risk management that explicitly addresses all risk management processes related to prospective, corrective and reactive management."
While the Bahamas possessed legislation through the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act 2008, and a preparedness and response plan, the IDB called for "an updated policy framework" to "promote a more holistic approach" in this area.
It also identified "major gaps" in planning and policies to reduce the Bahamas' disaster vulnerability, even though the Planning and Subdivisions Act contained provisions linking land use and occupation to such risks.
"There is also a very relevant, but not yet approved, policy for the housing sector with regards to the avoidance of rebuilding in vulnerable areas, as well as raising the height of land for new housing projects, which would have positive impact in the iGOPP results should they become formal regulations," the IDB report said.
"It is also important to underscore that The Bahamas lacks an integrated, institutional framework for investment management, as well as related regulations for quality control of public investments, which hinders the possibility of introducing disaster risk criteria into the investment planning processes."
The Bahamas had also made "a low advance" in obtaining financial protection against disasters, although this assessment was made before the recent CCRIF and IDB initiatives.
"In this context, The Bahamas may evaluate additional financial risk retention and transfer instruments for reducing its fiscal vulnerability against the occurrence of disasters, such as a local fund for supporting financing emergency expenses in disaster situations, and for financing or co-financing risk management activities and the establishment of insurance of critical public infrastructure, as mandatory," the IDB said.
To improve its resilience to natural disasters in the short-term, the IDB recommended that The Bahamas identify funds in the annual Budget that can be directed towards disaster risk management and climate change activities.
"It is recommended that the Ministry of Finance develops a financial strategy or policy to guide the financial management of disaster risk in the country, informed by the experiences of similar undertakings by other ministries of finance in the region," the report added.
"It is recommended to include in the design of the Green Fund, under development by the Ministry of Environment, provisions for financing or co-financing climate change adaptation (CCA) and related DRM activities."
The IDB also found the utilities regulatory regimes to be inadequate because they did not impose disaster risk analysis requirements. "It is recommended to seize the opportunity of the on-going regulatory reform in the water and sanitation sector to introduce DRM and climate change-related goals as part of the integrated water resources management policies in the country," the report said.
"No evidence of allocation of resources for performing disaster risk reduction activities was found at the public utilities companies... The Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) mentioned in an interview that they are gradually incorporating climate change into the designs of desalination plants in six Family Islands as well as in New Providence.
"Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) mentioned that they have conducted activities to improve its infrastructure, which included replacing aging infrastructure for underground cables, reinforcing overhead networks in consideration of natural hazard risks - designed to withstand Category 3 - and built a new set of lines on steel poles to withstand Category 5."