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Addressing Poverty in the Bahamas

Poverty in the BahamasSince 2001, the rate of poverty in The Bahamas has increased by approximately 59%, with close to 15% of Bahamians currently living below the poverty line as of 2013. Food insecurity, natural disasters and complications associated with a tourism-based economy are all factors contributing to poverty in The Bahamas. 

Food Insecurity and Malnutrition in The Bahamas

As of 2021, 17.2% of Bahamians struggle with “moderate to severe food insecurity.” Their plight with food insecurity largely stems from the country’s heavy reliance on food imports, due to unpredictable climate conditions such as droughts and hurricanes that present challenges to agricultural success.

Only 10% of the food that people consume in The Bahamas is produced domestically, leaving the food supply vulnerable to international factors outside of the country’s immediate control. The structure of The Bahama’s food system often leads to inconsistent availability, prices and distribution of nutrient-dense foods, with residents of remote areas more susceptible to these shortages.

Globalization and the “growth of multinational food companies” have also made cheap, processed food much more accessible to Bahamians across all regions. This disproportionately high access to non-nutritious foods has resulted in mounting obesity and malnutrition, with the Caribbean region having the highest prevalence of overweight individuals in the world. Currently, 41% of Bahamian adults and 19% of Bahamian children are obese.

Housing Crisis in The Bahamas

As a country made up of islands, The Bahamas faces increased threats of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tropical storms. Not only do these natural disasters wreak havoc on the country’s food supply, but they are capable of destroying Bahamians’ homes and businesses. In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian struck The Bahamas, a category 5 storm that demolished the homes of around 70,000 people, leaving approximately 17% of the Bahamian population without housing.

According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the overall cost of damages to Bahamian housing infrastructure totaled approximately $1.5 billion. In the hardest hit areas of the country, communities were left in complete rubble, with people seeking refuge at highly overcrowded shelters, or “in [any] houses that [were] still standing.” Rebuilding efforts were challenged with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic just months later, and there remains a considerable amount of rebuilding. 

Unemployment in The Bahamas

Maintaining a labor market predominately reliant on tourism comes with its ups and downs. Global events that halt tourism such as natural disasters and pandemics take a massive toll on the stability of the Bahamian workforce, as this specific field accounts for approximately 60% of the country’s total GDP. Since the early 1990s, unemployment rates in The Bahamas have been unstable, with more recent rises and drops happening in correspondence to events such as Hurricane Dorian and the outbreak of COVID-19.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, The Bahamas experienced an “economic contraction” of 12.5% throughout 2020, with 13% of the Bahamian labor force claiming unemployment by May 2020. Additionally, the number of households earning below the minimum wage more than doubled between January and April 2020. With the post-COVID rebound of tourism, the current unemployment rate in The Bahamas sits at about 8.8%. However for Bahamians under the age of 25, the current unemployment rate is a startling 18.7%. 

Government Actions

In January 2023, the Bahamian government announced the creation of a new National Food Policy. The Ministry of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Family Island Affairs will oversee the National Food Policy, which aims to increase food security by strengthening Bahamian agriculture. This policy will work toward “[driving] domestic investment” in agriculture by aiding and incentivizing Bahamian farmers, with the goal of establishing a sizable internal food system and making the country less reliant on food exports.

Additionally, The Bahamas has taken steps to ensure the sustainability of its growing food market by attending the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, making the commitment to align its agricultural goals with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Small Home Repair Program

In the face of the massive displacement of Bahamians at the hands of Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamian government has made “significant payouts” directly to affected individuals, amounting to more than $1 million. In order to mitigate the catastrophic damage done to thousands of homes, the Bahamian government enacted the Small Home Repair Program through its Disaster Reconstruction Authority.

As of 2020, this program has allocated approximately $3.3 million to repair homes and businesses and has assisted approximately 2,000 individuals. This program has also funded further debris removal done by Bahamian contractors. Aside from assistance from the government, humanitarian organizations such as All Hands and Hearts have been working since 2019 to provide disaster relief and reconstruct homes lost in the storm. As of November 2022, All Hands and Hearts has assisted 67 households and has had more than 700 volunteers. 

The Skills for Current and Future Jobs in The Bahamas Program

While it appears that tourism may remain the predominant part of the Bahamian economy, the government of The Bahamas is working to create a labor force adaptable to other emerging markets and technologies. The Skills for Current and Future Jobs in The Bahamas Program introduced in 2019 specifically targets the most unemployed demographic, people aged 16 to 40, and teaches people essential skills that are vital to The Bahamas’ growing labor markets.

Through a 12-month apprenticeship, participants receive hands-on experience in maritime, medical and allied services and information communication technology sectors, transforming them into ideal candidates for modern Bahamian employers. The Bahamian government is also aiming to improve The Department of Labour’s internal technologies and infrastructures in order to match job-seekers to potential employers better. As this program is very young, it could take several more years for The Bahamas to record measurable results. 

A Hopeful Outlook

In addition to poverty in The Bahamas, the country also struggles with food insecurity, homelessness and unstable employment, particularly in the midst of recent pandemics and natural disasters. While there is no quick fix, the Bahamian government, U.N. and humanitarian aid organizations such as All Hands and Hearts are committed to reducing poverty in the Bahamas and keeping the country on track toward a sustainable future.

–  Reagan McDaniel
Photo: Flickr