BY DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
Human Rights and Environmental activist Joseph Darville says “ample hurricane shelters built on high ground” are needed to avoid the catastrophic deaths that occurred with Huirricane Dorian, warning “we better get prepared” as even stronger storms are forecasted.
“I don’t see any preparation in place in terms of refuge for migrants or even residents of the Bahamas,” said Mr Darville, an executive of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association and chairman of Save the Bays.
“You know if we have another storm similar to Dorian, in light of the tidal surge, we are going to suffer an even more catastrophic situation with deaths and injuries than we did in Dorian,” he warned.
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) has warned The Bahamas is not ready for the 2020 hurricane season, after completing a comprehensive assessment of official and unofficial emergency shelters in Abaco and Grand Bahama found that most were unusable.
The IOM determined that emergency shelter capacity is one major weakness, and “found that currently 13 of the 25 official shelters are usable, providing capacity for just over 1,500 people, or two percent of the population of Abaco and Grand Bahama.”
The organisation also cited that “many of the shelters on both islands are built in vulnerable locations.”
Mr Darville – who agrees with the IOM - said: “At this particular point in time there should be ample shelters constructed on high ground.”
“I have been reiterating this every time I go on radio and television the fact that we must prepare and make sure there are hurricane proof up to category five plus shelters built on high ground to make sure we evacuate all persons in low-lying areas. And to this particular date in time, unless it is unseen or unless it is something invisible, I cannot see any progress in that particular regard. And I think that’s probably what IOM is reflecting on,” he said. “And I would at this particular point in time agree with them that there is visibly no strategic plan in place for the protection of our people against a Category Five or stronger hurricane.”
When contacted, Iram Lewis, Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management, and Reconstruction, said government was structuring its Hurricane Preparedness Plan, based on needs assessments and bearing the effects of Hurricane Dorian in mind.
“We must now adjust due to COVID-19 protocols. As soon as completed, we will advise the media and general public of the intended roll-out,” he said.
Mr Darville believes that regardless of Dorian and COVID-19, the government should have made sure there are plans put in place. “I have forgiven government on many issues, one to do with the oil spillage in East End of some 558,000 barrels of oil that were spilled in the ground and in the forest, and literally nothing has been done on the part of our government in order to alleviate the damage done from that or to make sure that this thing is cleaned up.”
“They started to clean up; they had six months to clean up, but now again in that situation, we are on the doorstep for another hurricane season and they had to suspend the cleaning, and they had one percent done and they supposed to have six months to clean so we going straight into another hurricane season. So, I excused that situation and Dorian, and generally on the basis of the preoccupation of the COVID-19.
“But the fact is there should be enough strategies within the government to make sure there are plans put in place irrespective of Dorian and irrespective of COVID-19 for the protection of our people,” he stressed.
“And how that is going happen? The government is supposed to have the resources and the wherewithal and manpower in order to orchestrate this.
“Now, I have a lot of regard and respect for Iram Lewis who is in charge of that particular area, but I am not sure he has been given the resources and the manpower to construct expeditiously the type of shelters we need on high ground,” said Mr Darville.
“Right now, like the Chinese, you could build and elevate buildings in 10 or 15 days if you get the right amount of instruments and people involved.
And so, I would say that of course, I give the government leeway because of Dorian and because of COVID-19, but the fact is we are on the doorstep of another hurricane season and they are forecast to be as strong as or even stronger, so we better get prepared,” he said.