WITH Tropical Storm Gordon making landfall in countries on the Gulf of Mexico after passing south of The Bahamas last week, together with news of further tropical systems forming in the Atlantic, everyone in this country should be aware we are now in the middle of the most dangerous period of the hurricane season. Officially, it is from the beginning of June to the end of November but the incidence of storms is usually highest during the months of August, September and October.
The two monster hurricanes – Irma and Maria – in September last year which did so much damage in the eastern Caribbean also badly affected some of the southern islands of the Bahamian archipelago, but the most populous northern islands, including New Providence, were spared the worst of both storms. Hurricane Maria also caused destruction in Puerto Rico and considerable loss of life, the figures for which recently have been significantly raised. Now, we are faced once again with the frightening reality of the uncertainty of the seasonal peak.
The last major hurricane to hit almost every island in our archipelago was Matthew in October, 2016. That Category 5 storm resulted in extensive damage and precipitated serious flooding. However, miraculously no deaths were reported in The Bahamas while Haiti, just beyond the southernmost tip of our archipelago, suffered loss of life as well as widespread destruction.
The connection between hurricanes and global warming remains a matter of debate, though the number of major storms seems to be growing; for example, last year in the Caribbean and in Japan which has just experienced its worst typhoon for 25 years. But the likely threat from global warming of rising sea levels - even if the rise in temperatures is limited to the existing international target of less than 2 degrees Celsius - could be catastrophic for The Bahamas because most of our landmass is already vulnerable to higher such levels and flooding.
Against this background, it was disturbing to read the recent report by the Inter-American Development Bank rating our readiness to cope with major disasters as weak in almost all aspects of planning, preparation, management and response. These findings suggest we are woefully ill-prepared to deal with a hurricane despite the experience – and lessons learned – of Hurricane Matthew only two years ago, not least because there has been little progress in improving disaster recovery planning.
It is probably too late to put in place substantive new measures for the current hurricane season. However, while it should be the responsibility of individual householders to protect their own homes, we can only hope the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is on full alert and is prepared as fully as it can be with its existing plans and resources to deal with any disaster in the coming critical months.
PEACE AND STABILITY IN THE BAHAMAS
Disturbing news from South Africa about serious violence against white farmers - together with plans for compulsory acquisition of land without compensation - is apparently only now attracting media attention following interest shown by the US President.
A similar process has already happened in neighbouring Zimbabwe during a prolonged reign of terror by the then-President Robert Mugabe that forced white farmers off their land. Some observers, while not condoning the use of force, maintain this is the inevitable consequence of years of political oppression by the white minorities in both countries.
Viewed from afar in the comfortable bosom of our own peaceful land that has largely escaped political violence and has developed a strong and tested democracy which respects the rights of all its citizens, we should rejoice that our country has a degree of racial harmony that is the envy of others.
While we watch events unfolding in southern Africa and deplore the violence that has been unleashed, let us give thanks for our good fortune that, despite the endless political battling in running a relatively young country like The Bahamas, we manage to live and work together peacefully as one people irrespective of racial origins and other differences that have been divisive elsewhere.
Long may the work of the One Bahamas Foundation flourish as we continue to strengthen national unity through further development of those elements that bind us together as a people to the benefit of us all.