By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
NO hurricane shelters have been identified for some of the Abaco cays – and yesterday the government admitted the nation has no properly built shelters to withstand another Hurricane Dorian.
Carl Smith, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction, made the admissions at a press conference yesterday, held by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) ahead of the possibility of a tropical storm which might make landfall on the south eastern islands by the weekend.
The Tribune asked Mr Smith about a report made by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) after assessing the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco a few months ago. The report said the islands were not fit to withstand another hurricane and it also mentioned that shelters in The Bahamas were just churches, gymnasiums and school rooms and not properly structured shelters built to a certain code to withstand serious winds and weather conditions.
Mr Smith said the IOM report is not telling Bahamians anything they don’t already know and subsequently went on to speak about immigration matters in The Bahamas.
“The International Organization for Migration simply reminded us of what we already know,” he said. “In The Bahamas, we do not have any purposely built facilities that serve as shelters. And we are not unique in that either. In the great US of A, they don’t have many such facilities.
“The International Organization for Migration’s focus is on providing housing for migrants. So when they make their report and speak to the lack of accommodations to house persons in The Bahamas, protect them from storms, they have built into their consideration the countless number of migrants in The Bahamas. Part of our preparation needs to be that if you are in The Bahamas illegally, you should make every effort to go home. We are a very humane society. We provide water and food and shelter, but there is only so much that we can do. That is the reality. We need not try to escape that reality.”
When pressed with regard to the structure of hurricane shelters and their ability to withstand hurricanes, Mr Smith continued: “We have a situation in The Bahamas where we have a number of migrants who live in conditions that cannot withstand systems such as hurricanes. We saw that with Hurricane Dorian and the consequential disaster that followed. We have to come to the place and realise that that is a situation that has to be addressed.”
Mr Smith said Bahamians have to face the reality of the migrant situation and something has to happen. He said: “Just as we’ve had an illegal migrant population in the heart of Marsh Harbour, Abaco, which resulted in quite a number of lives being lost, we have such communities here in New Providence, in Eleuthera, in Andros and many of our own people are facilitating them being here under those conditions.”
Focusing on shelters again, Mr Smith gave an overview of new shelter structures that are being planned. He said: “Having said that, we are moving towards the construction of community centres that will be specifically designed to serve as shelters,” he said. “We have had, for example, contributions from the government of India to the tune of $1m. There are contributions from Rotary International towards the construction of purposely built facilities that will serve as shelters and community centres. In addition to that, we have Bahamas Red Cross and International Red Cross that are moving in that direction as well.”
He said The Bahamas does its best to accommodate all people who are here, but “we are realistic people and there is only so much we can do and only so far that our resources can go”.