Between 1-2 September 2019, Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm, devastated The Bahamas. The hardest hit islands were Abaco and Grand Bahama in the north-western section of the country. Over the past few years the country has been affected by at least three major hurricanes, all Category 4 or higher.
According to the Government of The Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the official death toll stands at 53, as of 23 September 2019. In addition, over 1,300 people have been reported missing. These numbers are expected to change as the Coalitions of Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) continue their efforts to access hard to reach areas. OCHA reported an estimated 5,500 people were evacuated from Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands to Nassau, New Providence. As of 23 September 2019, NEMA is reporting an estimated 1,735 persons in 11 official shelters in New Providence and Grand Bahama, and one private shelter on Eleuthera. An estimated 900 people are also being housed in private homes and hotels, organized by private sector and volunteer initiatives. Several spontaneous, non-approved shelters and settlements have been detected in hard-hit areas.
The situation on Grand Bahama and Abaco islands has deteriorated rapidly. Affected sites, particularly in central Abaco, are destroyed and remain uninhabitable. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) highlighted that more than 13,000 houses have been severely damaged or destroyed – about 45 per cent of all homes on the two islands. Electricity is not available and running water is limited on the two affected islands, and extensive flooding is believed to have contaminated wells with saltwater and other debris, creating an urgent need for clean water. Security personnel have been stationed to secure life and property on the islands. Emergency relief efforts are currently being hampered by the significant amount of debris littering the affected islands. Large-scale debris removal has not commenced and is scheduled to begin shortly after search and rescue efforts are completed. On 15 September 2019, the Ministry of Housing and Environment issued a Prohibition to Build order for The Mudd, Pigeon Pea, Sand Bank and Farm Road community areas located on the island of Abaco, where a large number of irregular migrants in conditions of vulnerability lived. Not only must migrants not be left out of the humanitarian response, but the increased vulnerability to exploitation and abuse must be recognized. A growing body of research (IOM 2015) has shown that humanitarian crises may exacerbate pre-existing trafficking trends and give rise to new ones, making it an urgent priority to include counter-trafficking efforts within the response for all those affected, both migrants and nationals.
According to the 2010 national census, the islands of Abaco and the Grand Bahama are home to 17,224 (8,902 males, 8,322 females) and 51,368 (24,996 males, 26,372 females) residents respectively. The overall Haitian population of The Bahamas is 39,144 (21,143 males, 18,001 females), according to the 2010 Census. Abaco is home to a large population of irregular Haitian migrants, including their Bahamian-born children, who have been living in informal settlements that were completely devastated by the hurricane. Their irregular status may prevent them from reporting missing persons and from seeking humanitarian assistance and which makes them particularly vulnerable in the aftermath of this disaster. According to the Minister of Immigration, the government has temporarily suspended deportation roundups in areas affected by the storm and emergency shelters are being considered sanctuaries so that all people can access aid. The temporary policies that have been put in place to protect irregular migrants will likely be lifted in the foreseeable future, however, now that the recovery phase has begun.
The Government of Bahamas (GoB), through NEMA, has taken the lead on coordinating the emergency response from its National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) in Nassau. The response is supported by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) with support from international organizations and agencies. The GoB Emergency Support Function 6 (ESF 6) – Mass Care and Shelter Services is led by the Government’s Department of Social Services and NEMA’s shelters, alongside with the Shelter/CCCM sectors supported by IFRC and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
With support from local partners, IOM is in the process of distributing an estimated 1,000 (340) tarpaulins in Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island to address urgent shelter needs. In coordination with local NGO Hands for Hunger, IOM also conducted a site assessment at seven, government-run collective sites (emergency shelters) and produced a related case study on evacuees staying outside of official shelters in New Providence.1 The present appeal outlines IOM’s funding requirement from September 2019 until April 2020 which totals USD 10 million. IOM operations will focus on the following sectors of assistance: Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM); shelter and Non-Food Items (NFI); Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM); Integrated Registration System (SIRA); counter-trafficking; emergency evacuations; protection; disaster risk reduction; livelihoods, and public works. IOM is establishing three offices in The Bahamas: Nassau (New Providence), Marsh Harbour (Abaco), and Freeport (Grand Bahamas).