EDITOR, The Tribune.
Today, our country stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of its islands, the extraordinary resilience of its people, the extraordinary resilience of the entire commonwealth of The Bahamas.
Our people are examples of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together to lend a hand, and, brick by brick, block by block, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, you build a better future.
Thousands of people saw their homes destroyed, livelihoods wiped out, hopes and dreams shattered; some lost their lives and then there are some still unaccounted for. Many scattered in exodus to the capital, and other islands and even there in America. Those who stayed and lived through that epic struggle still feel the trauma sometimes of what happened, even up today. A trauma that they will never forget.
It is sad that Abaco and Grand Bahamam two islands that embodies a celebration of life, suddenly seemed devoid of life. We all watched in horror. We saw those rising waters, families stranded on rooftops. Bodies in the streets. Children crying, crowded in the shelters; two islands dark and under water.
I believe that we are to a realisation that what started out as a natural disaster became a man-made disaster. A failure of a government to look out for its own people. This storm laid bare a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades in Abaco, and especially Grand Bahama. Just like so many countries and communities around the world, far too long been plagued by structural inequalities.
Many Bahamians had nothing before the hurricane, and now they have less than nothing. This is a big loss, and it pains not to dwell on the past, not to wallow in grief; but now more than ever we need to fortify our commitment and to bolster our hope, to understand what it is that we’ve learned, and how far we’ve come.
This country that is slowly, unmistakably, together, is moving forward. Because the project of rebuilding here wasn’t just to restore these islands as it had been. It was to build islands as it should be; an island where everyone, no matter what they look like, how much money they’ve got, where they come from, where they’re born has a chance to make it.
It is without question that on a larger project of a better, and stronger Bahamas, the progress that has been made thus far is remarkable. The people of this great country are working together, this let’s us know that we are moving in the right direction. I have never been more confident that together we will get to where we need to go! And no matter how hard it’s been and how hard and how long the road ahead might seem, seeing people working and building and striving for a better tomorrow is an inspiration.
I admonish this government to cut the red tape to help the people in Abaco and Grand Bahama build back even stronger. I hope hurricane Dorian causes us to take the lessons we have learned and apply them across the country! If Dorian was initially an example of what happens when government fails, the recovery has been an example of what’s possible when government works together, whether internationally, local or community; everybody working together as true partners.
As we rebuild, it is important that we rebuild smarter, doing everything from elevating homes to retrofitting buildings to improving drainage, so that our communities are better prepared for storms even of this great magnitude.
It is time to put politics aside, and we must work together, providing housing assistance to more families today than before the storm, with new apartments and housing vouchers. And we must keep working until everybody who wants to come home can come home.
It is time that we become a model for the nations when it comes to disaster response and resilience. Dorian has taught us a big lesson. We must revamp the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) into a stronger, more efficient agency. In fact, we must ensure that this agency is on top of things as regards to preventing and recovering from disasters.
We must ensure that our islands are more resilient and doing this is going to be increasingly important, because we’re going to see more extreme weather events as the result of climate change. It is imperative that we invest in natural systems that are just as critical for storm protection.
We are all aware that we’re moving into the next election cycle and the next political season, and a lot of people will be telling you everything that’s wrong with The Bahamas. That’s okay! That’s a proper part of our democracy. One of the things about Bahamians is we’re never satisfied. We keep pushing forward. We keep asking questions. We keep challenging our government. We keep challenging our leaders. We keep looking for the next set of challenges to tackle. We find what’s wrong because we have confidence that we can fix it.
It is important that we remember what’s right, and what’s good, and what’s hopeful about this country. It’s worth remembering that for all the tragedy, for the all images of Dorian in those first few days, look at what’s happened here. We have seen neighbours and friends or strangers in need come to help. And people who today still spend their time every day helping others, rolling up their sleeves, doing the hard work of changing this country without the need for credit or the need for glory; don’t get their name in the papers, don’t see their day in the sun, do it because it’s right.
Bahamians are resilient people. We have a way of making a way out of no way. And I am so glad that the sun comes out after every storm. Which tells us there is hope! We have overcome more than enough of our fair share of challenges, but we are still focused on the future. The basic values that define this country, the value we’ve been reminded of after every hurricane; we’ve come back from a crisis that changed our island and an economic crisis that spread throughout the nation; but the basic notion that I am my brother’s keeper, and I am my sister’s keeper, and that we look out for each other and that we’re all in this together is our humanity anthem!
Bahamas, if we stay focused on that common purpose, if we remember our responsibility to ourselves but also our responsibilities and obligations to one another, we will not just rebuild Abaco and Grand Bahama, we will rebuild this country. We’ll leave behind a city and a nation that’s worthy of generations to come.
DR MATHEO J SMITH
September 16, 2019.