By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamas must allocate the necessary time and resources to “adapt to survive” natural disasters according to a local engineer, noting that ‘millions’ will be needed to upgrade the country’s physical and environmental protection.
Carlos Palacious, managing principal for Caribbean Coastal Services, told Tribune Business: “We are in a war with weather. Climate change is real and we are living proof. We must respond aggressively, intentionally and deliberately to avoid becoming international climatic refugees. I say international because it is likely that some residents of Grand Bahama and Abaco will seek refuge in other islands, making them domestic climatic refuges. We have to be hopeful, but we must allocate the necessary time and resources to adapt to survive.”
Mr Palacious pointed to a World Bank study released back in June which noted the net benefit on average of investing in more resilient infrastructure in low and middle-income countries would be $4.2 trillion with $4 in benefit for each $1 invested. According to a new report from the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), $1 trillion is the cost of just a decade of inaction, if countries continue building a stock of “low resilience infrastructure assets”.
“It will take millions, but the cost benefit analysis shows that it will be worth it,” said Palacious.
To mitigate the effects of hurricanes Palacious suggested we should first complete vulnerability assessments for our infrastructure and ecosystem services across the entire nation.
“These assessments include determining the sensitivity, exposure and adaptability of our critical roads, buildings, sensitive habitats, beaches, etc. Understanding the type of structures we have, the current conditions of those structures, the service life they’ve already provided and critical elevation are important. By understanding this we can then model various scenarios both for short term and long term responses and planning to determine future adaptability and response to climate change events,” he said.
According to Palacious there is no need to ban coastal development although he noted: “We do need to adapt.” He pointed out that ways to adapt include retreat landward; raising the site of the development or improving natural buffers such as beaches or wetlands; holding the line by using coastal protection – natural (green) and less ideally manmade (grey) solutions including beach nourishment, wetland re-establishment, revetments and seawalls as well as flood proofing and resilient designs.
“We have one of the best building codes in the region and some of the best building practices, but nothing and no one on earth was prepared for Hurricane Dorian. The ball is now in our court to be global leaders in the fight for survival against these increasingly more intense and frequent hurricanes. We must establish policies that outline no build zones and restrictive building regulations in highly vulnerable areas,” said Palacious.
He added: “Some areas might be reserved only for non-habitable structures such as gazebos. We can complete computer numerical models of our nation quite easily and create flood maps so that we can quickly plan when heavy rains, hurricanes and storm surge is imminent. In vulnerable coastal areas, these flood maps can allow us to determine and require a fixed square footage of accessible area within a house that must be above the flood line eg. a secure attic space in houses where a 2nd floor does not exist. These areas might also require waterproofing and special measures below the flood line such as raising electrical outlets in order to obtain an occupancy permit. Florida has the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) which is an essential part of their coastal management program that allows reasonable use of private property while protecting the environment. The Bahamas can establish a CCCL for all our islands.”
According to Palacious: “Our greatest blessing is our greatest curse. Beautiful islands, shallow, warm waters - the perfect equation for hurricanes. My grandmother is from Hardhill Acklins, a place that some may not have considered worth rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Joaquin. “Understanding human emotion and our ancestral ties, I believe the more practical option is an effective evacuation policy. Evacuations should become a major part of our strategy. We can then focus on ensuring that our shelters exceed current codes and are equipped efficiently, similar to war bunkers that can withstand the 220-plus mph gusts and 20ft storm surges and waves that we saw in Dorian.
“We should also consider amphibious response vehicles that can traverse the waters once they rise. Some things each and every one of us can do is to ensure our doors swing outward, we complete regular maintenance on our homes, we upgrade and retrofit our hurricane straps to meet the current code and we always batten down.”
According to Palacious, families should have emergency plans in place to know exactly what will happen if the house floods, the roof is compromised or a window blown out.
“We are in a new chapter of our existence and we should not just react but be proactive. God created the land and the sea before he created humankind. It was here first and will be here after. We have to do everything we can to maximize our existence.”