NASSAU, Bahamas, September 15, 2019 (ENS) – Category 5 Hurricane Dorian was “Category Hell,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “but it was not powered by a devil. We have always had many hurricanes, but now they are more intense and more frequent, and they are powered by climate change.”
The UN chief said it was key for the international community to learn two things from the monster storm which struck on September 1, killing at least 50 people, while around 1,300 others are still reported missing. At least 15,000 have been left homeless and are in need of shelter, food and medical care.
“We need to stop climate change, we need to make sure that we reverse the present trend when climate change is running faster than we are, and second, that countries like The Bahamas that do not contribute to climate change – but are in the first line of the devastating impacts of climate change – deserve international support, to be able to fully respond to the humanitarian emergency, but also for the reconstruction and the building resilience of the communities on the islands,” said Guterres.
Hurricane Dorian packed the highest winds ever recorded for a hurricane at landfall when it hit Elbow Cay on Abacos with sustained winds of 295km/h (185mph).
Now a new storm is pummeling the Bahamas two weeks after Hurricane Dorian. Tropical Storm Humberto, which struck Friday night, has caused heavy rainfall across the island chain. Humberto is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane by Sunday night or Monday morning, causing stormy seas, high surf and rip currents around the northwestern Bahamas.
Carl Smith, from the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, told reporters Tropical Storm Humberto could affect the ongoing search for missing people, as well as efforts to get essential supplies to Grand Bahama and Great Abaco – worst hit by Hurricane Dorian.
“Fuel and water remain the biggest needs in Abaco,” Smith told the BBC. “We have taken precautionary measures to address the potential impact that we may encounter.”
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a nationwide address on Wednesday, “Floodwaters in the streets made them appear like the ocean. Concrete structures were turned to dust, as if a massive bomb had exploded with atomic force.”
In addition to the devastation in Abaco, Minnis said East Grand Bahama has been “laid to waste,” and Freeport, West End and much of Grand Bahama “experienced horrible destruction.”
Minnis said the government is “aggressively working” to set up and secure temporary housing on both islands. While power has been restored to much of Grand Bahama, the electrical grid around Abaco’s largest city no longer exists.
Thousands of Hurricane Dorian survivors have fled to Nassau hoping to find shelter, only to be told there was no room for them there.
On Thursday the United States announced US$4 million in new humanitarian assistance for the Bahamas. The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, said the money would go towards providing shelter, food, medicine and water to those on the two worst-hit islands, Grand Bahama and Great Abaco. More than 5,000 people have been evacuated from those islands to New Providence, where the country’s capital Nassau is located.
On Saturday, United Parcel Service airlifted more than six metric tons of supplies from USAID to The Bahamas to support the acute humanitarian needs. This is the first time USAID has coordinated on a humanitarian flight with UPS.
This flight, carrying a total of 50 metric tons of supplies, includes enough USAID water buckets and hygiene kits to help 10,000 people in need. The flight included four 10,000-liter water bladders, to provide safe drinking water.
But U.S. officials announced Wednesday that temporary protective immigration status will not be extended to Bahamian migrants, despite the country’s ongoing struggle after Hurricane Dorian. Catholic leaders have condemned the decision, and two Florida bishops say that Bahamians need help from U.S. Catholics.
Temporary protective status is a humanitarian protection that was created by Congress in 1990 for situations where it is unsafe to return nationals back to their home country because of extraordinary and temporary situations, such as armed conflict or environmental disaster.
“The United States has a long history of granting some kind of status to refugees who might come to us because of natural disasters,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida told the “Catholic News Agency.” He and others are urging protection for at least the 4,000 Bahamians who have already arrived in the United States.
Tropical Storm Humberto brought new rainfall to the island nation Friday night, before moving away, but it did not stop the UN chief, who spent much of the day talking to Bahamians and showing solidarity with those affected.
Writing on Twitter, Guterres said he was “horrified” by the level of devastation. “I’ve never seen anything like this” he wrote, although he spent 10 years as head of UN refugee agency, the UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR.
“I have to say that I have seen in my life in different capacities, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, cyclones, I don’t remember seeing such a systematic level of devastation. Even when I came two years ago to Dominica. This kind of systematic destruction is unique.”
Thanking all of the search and rescue workers from nations throughout the world, international NGOs and UN agencies on the ground, Guterres said they all worked “with an enormous determination, and enormous solidarity, and enormous generosity” in “very tough conditions.”
Guterres said that the destruction he witnessed was “a demonstration of how dramatic natural disasters are becoming, increasing in intensity and in frequency and how vulnerable countries like the Bahamas are in relation to these natural disasters.”
“It is clear that this acceleration is very much linked to human activity, triggering climate change and of course the Bahamas are not contributing much to climate change… So this solidarity is absolutely essential, and the international community needs to be able to express it very strongly.”
As the UN chief left Nassau late Saturday, a government minister thanked him for speaking to the world about the reality Bahamians now find themselves in.
Guterres is urging world leaders attending his upcoming UN Climate Action Summit on September 23 to show up armed not only with speeches but with plans to achieve carbon neutrality, reduce emissions and improve adaptation.
Speaking to journalists in Nassau, Guterres said, “In some areas, more than three-quarters of all buildings have been destroyed, hospitals in ruins or overwhelmed, schools turned into rubble. Thousands of people will continue to need help with food, water and shelter, and many more facing the uncertainties of the future after having lost everything.”
Guterres warned that the climate crisis has generated “turbocharged” hurricanes and storms, which are occurring with greater intensity and frequency than ever before. Without urgent action, climate disruption will only get worse, he said, packing “a triple punch of injustice.”
“First, the worst impact is on countries with the lowest greenhouse emissions; The Bahamas are a very good example of that. Second, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people in those countries who suffer most, and again, the same has happened with the communities in The Bahamas. And third, repeated storms trap countries in a cycle of disaster and debt.”
While the financial cost of Hurricane Dorian has not yet been determined, Guterres estimated it will be in the billions of dollars.
“The Bahamas cannot be expected to foot this bill alone. These new large-scale climate-related disasters require a multilateral response. Climate financing is one element,” he said.
“We must reach the target of US$100 billion per year from public and private sources, for mitigation and adaptation in the developing world, as rich countries have been promising for nearly a decade. And we must improve access to development financing. In cases like the Bahamas, I strongly support proposals to convert debt into investment in resilience.”
Above all, Guterres called for greater global action.
“The entire international community must address the climate crisis through rising ambition and action to implement the Paris Agreement. The best available science, as reported by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, says we must ensure collectively that global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degrees. And it says we have a window of less than 11 years to avoid irreversible climate disruption and that we must reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.”
“And this is why I am asking all leaders to come to the climate summit with plans, not speeches, in New York in one week’s time.”