IT would be easy to be quick to criticise the pledge conference that sought to raise funds after Hurricane Dorian.
After all, the first figure reported after the conference was that $1.5bn was pledged. The news yesterday was more of a mixed bag. Only $364,000 was in actual cash and deposits, though the overall sum pledged had risen to just shy of $1.8bn.
That of course is a huge sum – but a significant chunk of that is in grants and in-kind pledges, not hard cash that can go straight to helping people out. The biggest amount in that was a pledge of $975m in loans from the P3 Group – an amount that raised eyebrows and perhaps distorted expectations of the outcome of the conference. No decision has been made on whether to accept that offer – with no detailed discussions yet with P3 regarding the pledge, but if that were to be declined, then it alone accounts for more than half of the total.
So some will raise their voices in mockery and say the supposed success of the conference was overblown – and yet that would be missing the point, we feel.
Whatever sum was raised thanks to the conference was more than what we had without it. More than that, it opened up connections for The Bahamas with the donors that could have value over and above the dollar amount written on paper. That’s not even taking into consideration the possibility that all these offers may be accepted – that they have the possibility of a $1.8bn shot in the arm for our hurricane-affected economy.
The process has shown up some of our weaknesses too, however. The conference was held in January, yet you’ll note that line about “no detailed discussions yet”. The Disaster Reconstruction Authority simply doesn’t have the staff yet to address the pledges in detail. That’s a bottleneck that doesn’t help as the days and weeks tick by – especially if you’re in Abaco or Grand Bahama and don’t have a roof over your head.
But for the critics who will point and say the conference has failed to deliver, we would suggest that if even a quarter of the pledges turn into a reality that benefits Bahamians, it will have been a huge success. We often ask governments to try new things, to offer new ideas – well, this was one of them, and whatever came out of it is extra on top of all the other fundraising efforts.
The hard part is verifying which pledges will be of use to Bahamians – and which will not. Time is against officials in that race, there are people who need that help now. So we wish them well in finding the right staff to make that assessment, but remind them of two things – their own pledge to make public the list of donors, and the urgency to help the victims of the storm.
Lessons to learn to stop the virus
The eminently sensible request by Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder for parishioners to stay at home if they are suffering the symptoms of the flu shows the kind of thing we can do ourselves to minimise the spreading of the coronavirus should it reach our shores.
That seems like an inevitability now – with numbers of those affected rising in the US and the horror story of Italy quarantining up to 16 million of its people by blocking travel in the north of the country.
Archbishop Pinder has also suspended the practice of drinking the communion wine from the same chalice and shaking hands during the sign of peace at church services. All this added of course to thorough hand washing, including before and after distributing communion. Little things, but crucial steps that could stop the virus spreading within the church community.
He is not alone in taking steps – with Bishop Boyd of the Anglican churches also taking steps, and advising the congregation to use hand sanitisers, with those to be placed at the entrance of churches where possible.
We often look to religious leaders for our lessons – and we hope Bahamians will take these lessons to heart, not just in church but in their own homes and businesses. What can you do to try to prevent the virus from spreading? Does your business have hand sanitiser at hand for both staff and customers? At home, do you have tissues ready to use once and throw away if you sneeze? Little things that can make a difference – possibly all the difference in the world.