By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced the creation of the new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction yesterday, to be headed by Central Grand Bahama MP Iram Lewis.
Mr Lewis, pictured, will be sworn in today at Government House as minister of state for the body. While making the announcement, Dr Minnis declared it was critical that red tape, which might hinder recovery and reconstruction efforts, be removed. Dr Minnis said the country is facing a climate emergency and in order to combat it, there must be comprehensive and dramatic changes in hurricane preparedness and disaster relief management.
The National Emergency Management Agency will also undergo restructuring with input from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, among other international counterparts.
“We are facing difficult times,” Dr Minnis said yesterday. “We have faced an enemy that we have never seen before, an enemy that had devastating effects to our country and yet we were defenceless.
“Enemies of similar nature will again approach our shores and our only weapon is preparation. We have to prepare, we have to improve our codes, our sea walls and we must build resilience and that we will and that we must.”
The new ministry will work with local authorities in the development of plans and construction of high capacity, reinforced hurricane shelters on high ground in vulnerable communities; work with NEMA to pre-position hurricane relief stores, foodstuffs, water and supplies; pre-position life rafts, life jackets, generators, chainsaws, jet skis, tools and heavy equipment and other material to provide immediate services to affected areas; and focus on consultation and training of residents in vulnerable communities.
It will also implement and oversee the enforcement of mandatory evacuation orders, which are currently in draft form, Dr Minnis said.
“The National Emergency Management Agency is going to be dramatically restructured, especially in light of the global climate emergency, which is making hurricanes more powerful and more deadly,” Dr Minnis said.
“In restructuring NEMA, we will work with disaster preparedness, recovery and management experts from around the world, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the United States of America. Let me be clear, it cannot be business as usual in government.
“We have to break down the silos. There is no time for territorial or turf battles. Egos must be put aside in the interest of the common good,” the nation’s leader said.
The ministry also will be in charge of disaster response.
Meanwhile, as he outlined plans for Grand Bahama and Abaco, Mr Lewis said it was his intention to see a greener more efficient utility infrastructure in Abaco, adding Hurricane Dorian created an opportunity to do so.
To have efficient and effective restoration on those islands, he said there needed to be a layered approach, handled in phases.
The first phase will feature cleanup and sanitisation.
He said once the Department of Environmental Health gives the green light, the government will begin to erect temporary housing facilities for the teams that will carry out the necessary infrastructural work.
Mr Lewis, a certified architect and project manager, said: “It is my intent to see a greener more efficient utility infrastructure in Abaco and Dorian has presented us with an opportunity to make this a reality. Our team of engineers and consultants will ensure that we build state-of-the-art infrastructure for the people of Abaco.”
The second phase will be rebuilding homes and businesses.
“Working with the business community in Abaco and restarting the islands economy is vital to returning Abaco to normalcy. As is clear, the building codes will be addressed and moving forward will be strictly adhered to, in order to give the residents of Abaco, the best opportunity in the event of another major storm. We have learned a lot from Dorian and there is still much to learn, so we must not take these lessons lightly,” Mr Lewis said.
“My team will work along with central government, the banking sector and other institutions to create vehicles that allow residents to get the assistance needed during the rebuilding phase. We are going to review a public housing scheme which we anticipate will prove very beneficial for many residents.
“In my commitment to total transparency we will ensure weekly updates are made to the public to inform them of our progress, possible setbacks, etc. We will also work to create a clear dialogue with the public to ensure proper information is disseminated and that questions are answered by those with the correct answers,” Mr Lewis said.
The main body of the ministry will function as an authority, similar to the Public Hospitals Authority, Dr Minnis said.
Dr Minnis explained that legislation establishing a board of directors for this authority would be debated in Parliament in early October.
The prime minister said a budget for the new ministry had not yet been decided, but Cabinet is expected to discuss this matter tomorrow.
However, he said, given Dorian’s destruction, the government would do everything in its power to restart the economic engines of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Abaco generates $120m per year for the Bahamian economy and Grand Bahama contributes $137m, Dr Minnis said yesterday.
As for Grand Bahama, Mr Lewis said he intended to work with several stakeholders to open the gates of opportunity for rapid business development on the island.
He said much like Abaco, East Grand Bahama, areas over the bridge and Queen’s Cove appeared to be the hardest hit areas of Grand Bahama.
He also said: “We will work along with the Office of the Prime Minister and the local lending institutions in Grand Bahama to find comprehensive ways to assist the residents and business owners with rebuilding their homes and reopening their establishments.
“We will work along with the Grand Bahama Port Authority to revisit the building codes as they pertain to flood prone areas. We must also address the topic of proper disaster shelters throughout both islands.”
The new ministry will operate from the Office of the Prime Minister. Dr Minnis said he will guide the larger policy objectives of the ministry and help to coordinate the full governmental response to Hurricane Dorian.