By Malcolm Strachan
NEARLY six months after Hurricane Dorian and we are still in a sobering transition period. Two islands – one on the brink of rediscovering its magic and the other comfortably thriving and contributing healthily to the Bahamian economy – both tied together by one storm’s singularly unmatched devastation.
Certainly, the distance between where we were on September 1 and a rebuilt and prosperous Abaco and Grand Bahama could not seem further apart.
While many of us will remember where we were when Hurricane Dorian upended Abaco and Grand Bahama, none of us will truly understand the gravity of what has been lost as well as those who are still here to tell their harrowing stories.
As our brothers and sisters in the northern Bahamas continue to pick up the pieces, uncertainty about their futures is inescapable. In November, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest revealed that after initial assessments, uninsured risk could have been as high 80 percent – reinforcing this storm’s catastrophic impact as many survivors face rebuilding out of pocket. The challenge this presents cannot be put into words when we consider the level of job losses.
Last week, Director of Public Works Melanie Roach spoke about some of the challenges of underinsured and uninsured homeowners, noting the government will need to address the public’s need for affordable housing insurance.
Mrs Roach highlighted the unfortunate circumstance that many storm survivors, all of whom are either uninsured or underinsured, will find themselves in as a result of not being able to rebuild their homes.
For certain, affordable home insurance will have to be the path going forward. In the medium-to-long-term, figuring out how a populace already struggling to manage under the conditions of such a high cost of living will be able to afford an additional expenditure will require some creativity.
For now, the government’s first step toward helping Abaconians and Grand Bahamians in their rebuilding efforts is a good start. However, despite the government’s launch of the Small Homes Repairs Programme - the mechanism by which the government will disburse funds via vouchers to homeowners who were not insured and owned homes on Abaco and Grand Bahama on August 31, 2019 – the costs to repair some of these dwellings may far exceed the payout. Although, the government has arranged for applicants meeting the criteria with minimal damage to receive $2,500, those with medium damage to receive $5,000, those with major damage to receive $7,500 and those whose houses have been totally destroyed to receive $10,000, we’re still unclear on what constitutes the respective classifications.
And while we can give credit to the government for setting up this programme, there is still a lot to be determined about how much of an impact this will actually make as there will certainly be individuals who aren’t satisfied with the amounts being received. For those people who may also be jobless, many questions surround what will happen to them.
Many questions loom - especially against the backdrop of the $1.5 billion pledged to the government through the United Nations Development Programme and the prime minister indicating that while the government will do what it can for us to get to where we want to be, more help has to come from the international community.
When will these funds become available? Will the government provide additional funds after evaluating how well this first phase of the programme performs?
Last week, chairman of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority John Michael Clarke confirmed 1,400 people have already applied for assistance through the Small Homes Repairs Programme. Noting it has been said that some 4,000-plus homeowners would have been affected, many more people need to get their applications in so they can receive the assistance they need.
Attempting to ensure this process runs as smoothly as possible, managing director of the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Kay Forbes-Smith outlined the criteria for applications to be considered at the end of last month.
“The criteria is that you have to be a citizen of The Bahamas. You have to own the property. You would have lived at the damaged property on August 31, 2019; which we can confirm by utility bill or some other acceptable verification. If you have insurance, you cannot have access to the programme. And the property has to be located in Grand Bahama, Abaco, and the associated cays,” said Ms Forbes-Smith.
Anyone looking at this knows full well how far we have to go for the lives of our brothers and sisters to be restored. We should also have the good sense to know that none of this will occur overnight.
As easy as it may be to criticise the time it is taking – which many of us have been guilty of – we have to be very sensitive to how we are being viewed as a country with regards to donations coming from the international community.
Surely, we must always demand accountability from our government. However, let’s present our ideas in a manner that helps rather than harms. If it is one thing this most unfortunate disaster has taught us is that we are stronger together.