IT IS a little more than six months since the climate summit in Glasgow that catapulted Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis briefly into the international spotlight.
The weekend’s flooding after record levels of rainfall brought into sharp focus the reality of the possible effects of climate change for many Bahamians.
Streets were flooded throughout areas of western New Providence particularly. The lake road lived up to its name, becoming an extension of the lake in many parts, while other roads became rivers.
A number of cars stalled on the roads, while many people had to act quickly to try to prevent their homes from being flooded – or to limit the damage if the waters got in. The Bahamasair hangar flooded, and everything ground to slow motion around the island as people picked their way carefully through the waters.
Weather forecaster Wayne Neely said that the level of rain was so high that it broke records. He said we had 12.37 inches of rainfall – and added that to put that in context, you would normally expect eight to 12 inches of rainfall from a category 1 to 3 hurricane passing over the island.
Fellow weather expert Basil Dean said he himself had to use water boots to get from his house to his vehicle, and his driveway’s concrete pyramids were under at least 12 inches of water.
Mr Neely added: “This does not bode well for the country - with the higher water table and climate change, flooding will become more frequent if not the norm. Flooding is getting more severe and we are going to feel the brunt of it.”
He added: “Gone are the days of the government putting the Meteorological Department and the weather on the back burner. This is now a priority and the best the government can do is try to mitigate flooding in the country.”
Frightening words – but not ones we should be surprised by.
After all, Prime Minister Davis has described climate change as “the greatest existential threat that The Bahamas has ever faced”. His predecessors used similar terms. Former Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said in 2019: “When one storm can obliterate an island-state or a number of states in one hurricane season: how will we survive, how can we develop, how will we continue to exist?”
Before that, former Prime Minister Perry Christie in 2015 warned of an “existential threat to the survival of a number of small island developing states” and in 2009, former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said climate change “is a serious threat to our economic viability, our social development and our territorial integrity”.
So this kind of flooding, shocking in the moment, has been a long time coming – and Mr Neely is right that we need to be prepared for this to become more frequent.
So how prepared are we? Six months on from that conference in Glasgow, the government has made moves towards bringing in extra money for the country through the use of carbon credits. Essentially, because we do not pollute as much, we can use that to be paid by polluters to offset their output. So what will that income go towards? That part is a little more hazy so far.
In practical terms, we have not seen plans announced for an array of flood walls, for changing zoning to create flood plains, legislation requiring increased standards for construction, significant moves towards renewable energy, and so on. It is only six months, so we shouldn’t have expected a revolution by now – but the focus seems to be on income rather than cleaning up our own house in preparation for rising flood waters.
That’s the missing part of the talk on climate action so far – and that’s the part that more obviously will impact people’s lives.
So while Mr Davis has put himself in a good position with his Glasgow speech, and there has been talk of taking a lead on climate change, there appear to be few steps taken so far that would have had an impact with regard to the weekend’s flooding – or any repeated flooding a year from now, two years or more.
Climate change is a more significant threat to our country than any invader might be, and we need to devote resources accordingly. We have the RBDF equipped with ships to handle incursions from any unwanted ships in our waters – but what do we have to handle incursions on our land from the rising sea levels?
This is the next step we need to take. Or else we need to be prepared, as Mr Neely says, to feel the brunt of it.
As our streets this weekend showed, the rising waters cannot be stopped.