Rise of COVID-19 Cases Threatens Bahamas’ Reconstruction Two Years After Hurricane Dorian
Dual crises of COVID-19 and climate impacts are impeding local recovery efforts, with Abaco still looking like Hurricane Dorian hit just last week
Abaco, Bahamas (August 24, 2021) — Across Abaco, it looks like Hurricane Dorian hit just last week. Mounds of debris remain today, and it will only take one strong storm for that debris to become deadly, reports Project HOPE staff. Many people still live in temporary shelters next to their destroyed homes.
Meanwhile, other areas are seeing an uptick in cruise lines, celebrity chefs and tourists arriving for vacation. COVID-19 cases are rising, but the islands are taking every precaution to sustain tourism after a 76 percent drop in 2020. It is an economic lifeline for Bahamian residents to finally recover from Hurricane Dorian and start preparing for the severity of storms to come, with this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, like others, exacerbated by climate change.
Andrea Dunne-Sosa, Americas Regional Director at Project HOPE, issued the following updates:
“Boats are still in yards and on land, and sunken boats and cars are still in the water. Destroyed houses and businesses remain abandoned and no one knows what will be done with the ruins.
“In nearly one week, it will be two years since Hurricane Dorian devastated the islands as a Category 5 storm, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded. On Abaco, 85 percent of the buildings were damaged or destroyed, so every person living there has been impacted. In March 2020, when the world began to shut down due to the coronavirus, all of the recovery work halted as international non-governmental organizations (I/NGOs) scrambled to get their staff home before borders closed. Unfortunately, most did not return. There is still so much work that needs to be done, including debris removal. Mounds of debris still remain today, and it will only take one strong storm for that debris to become deadly.
“At the same time, we are in the midst of an upswing in COVID-19 cases, and The Bahamas intends to maintain tourism. The economy is just beginning its long recovery after the double whammies of Hurricane Dorian followed by the pandemic. Tourism is being done as safely as possible, with health visas required to enter the country.
“Bahamian people are incredibly resilient and hardworking. Recovery of their communities continues to rely upon their own resourcefulness and temerity. They managed to keep COVID-19 cases and deaths relatively low.
“However less than 18 percent of Bahamian citizens and residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine. That’s not nearly enough. If one tropical storm, let alone a hurricane, passes through Abaco this season, many families who are still living in temporary shelters will be disproportionately affected.
“Additionally, there are only two doctors for a population of 15,000 inhabitants and one ambulance for the entire island. There is also no public transportation, so while we’re training community health workers to bridge the gap and provide coverage, it’s very hard to get people into health care facilities. This is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of residents in the event of emergencies as this new hurricane season unfolds.
“The people of Abaco face lifelong impacts from these compounded crises. Heart attacks and other early deaths caused by noncommunicable diseases have increased in adults who survived the hurricane. COVID-19 caused a lapse in routine health care for these diseases, physical and mental health care alike, which is especially problematic after undergoing the stress and trauma of such a tragic natural disaster. With no mental health care providers on the island, it will continue to manifest in people’s physical and mental health for years to come.”
Facts & Figures:
- 13 percent of The Bahamas’s population has been fully vaccinated, about 51,100 people.
- The Bahamas has around 140 beds for COVID patients.
- On September 1, 2019, Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahamas as a massive Category 5 storm, causing catastrophic damage on Abaco and Grand Bahama Island.
Project HOPE In The Bahamas
- COVID-19 Response: Project HOPE’s Community Health Worker program, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health in The Bahamas, has provided handwashing stations and reusable masks to all Abaco schools and residents.The program’s community health workers visit schools to demonstrate proper handwashing and educate students and staff about COVID-19 prevention. They also share information about nutrition and mental health and address the issue of gender-based violence that has been an unfortunate comorbidity to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
- Disaster Response: Project HOPE is working with the Ministry of Health and other NGOs in Abaco to ensure that emergency supplies are strategically placed around the island and surrounding cays, allowing early and easy access to them in case of another devastating hurricane.Through the Community Health Worker program, Project HOPE is also ensuring that communities have the knowledge and capacity to care for themselves immediately after a disaster. The community health workers are sharing information about preparedness and building resiliency around mental health. They are also focusing on strengthening health systems to be more resilient and rebound more quickly should another hurricane hit the island and cays.
More images available upon request.
About Project HOPE
With the mission to place power in the hands of local health workers to save lives around the world, Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian organization operating in more than 25 countries. Founded in 1958, we work side-by-side with local health systems to improve health and support community resilience. We work at the epicenter of today’s greatest health challenges, including infectious and chronic diseases; disasters and health crises; maternal, neonatal and child health; pandemic preparedness and response; mental health for health workers; and the policies that impact how health care is delivered. For more information, visit www.ProjectHOPE.org and follow us on Twitter @ProjectHOPEorg.