Bahamians Resilient, But Must Work to Strengthen Disaster Management Frameworks

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. Peter Turnquest was the keynote speaker at the second annual Sustainable Grand Bahama Conference, which opened at Pelican Bay Resort on Thursday, March 5, 2020. This year’s conference, hosted by the University of the Bahamas (North) placed its focus on the impact of Hurricane Dorian on Grand Bahama and on the entire Bahamas.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Hon. Peter Turnquest said it is imperative for Bahamians to be open to knowledge sharing, given the new realities The Bahamas faces when it comes to catastrophic hurricanes. As keynote speaker during opening ceremonies of the University of the Bahamas’ second annual Sustainable Grand Bahama Conference at Pelican Bay Resort, March 5-7, 2020 in Freeport, Grand Bahama, Minister Turnquest noted The Bahamas is no stranger to surviving natural disasters. “We have a long history of withstanding hurricanes, notwithstanding the unprecedented devastation that Hurricane Dorian caused,” said Minister Turnquest. “Why is that significant?  That means we have a lot of insight to share as well as lots of new learning still to do. We have proven our resilience before, and we will rise to the occasion demanded by Hurricane Dorian to strengthen our institutions, our processes, our disaster management frameworks so that we can continue to demonstrate our resilience well into the future.” One of the most important lessons learned by the government, he said, was the importance of strengthening the government’s national framework for response, recovery and reconstruction.  Pointing out that the historic scope of Dorian’s destruction required the government to acknowledge the need for new state structures to serve more effectively.

“We established the new Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction to streamline how we prepare, recover and rebuild in the event of a disaster,” said Minister Turnquest. “We are updating our laws, policies, procedures and state agencies to support this strengthening of the national disaster management mechanism. “Also, as an Administration, we see where the insurance industry is a ripe area for lessons learned. Flexible insurance policies that allow for tailored coverage are essential for meeting country-specific needs in the region. “The Bahamas had the benefit of a $12.8M payout from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). I am proud to say the Minnis Administration pioneered the restructuring of this policy, which allowed us to actually receive a benefit in our time of need.” Minister Turnquest said another lesson learned from Dorian was the importance of investing for now and the future. He noted that the cost to finance the Hurricane Dorian recovery is quite significant, and has required the government to borrow money.

He added that based on the lessons learned, one of the ways the government is investing these borrowed funds is on strategic investments that will benefit the country now and in the future. The Minister said his government has committed $100 million in IDB loan-financing so far to firmly establish renewable energy initiatives in the Family Islands, over three years, via the Family Islands Solarization Project. This investment, he said, will facilitate the development of utility-scale and roof-top solar facilities, and help the country to leapfrog the goal set by the Prime Minister’s Office for the country to produce 4.56 percent of its total energy mix from renewable sources by 2021. “The last thing I will touch on is the importance of boosting economic activity to support hurricane recovery, and the lessons we learned from Dorian,” said Minister Turnquest. “The Government unveiled an unprecedented package of tax incentives and concessions as a key part of the establishment of the Special Economic Recovery Zone (SERZ) in the aftermath of Dorian. The SERZ programme represents a pioneering approach to providing direct support and assistance to Bahamians in a way that had never been contemplated before in the history of the country.

“We also tailor-made a suite of small business development programmes specifically for businesses damaged in the Disaster Zones and approved $10 million through the Small Business Development Centre to ensure they get back on their feet quickly and with support.” Minister Turnquest noted that the current climate crisis and the associated catastrophic risks of natural disasters present a real threat to The Bahamas, with impacts that are uniquely felt by small island developing nations. “With each passing storm, whether it is at the doorstep of Dominica, the British Virgin Islands or the Islands of The Bahamas, more and more of our vulnerabilities are exposed: not only in terms of our economic resilience and national response, but also at the individual level, for families wondering about their physical safety, and their economic security should they be in the path of the next storm.”

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