On September 1, 2019, a massive Category 5 hurricane hit the Bahamas, bringing mass destruction and devastation to the people living there. The storm, named Dorian, took the lives of 70 people and left thousands homeless. A storm of this magnitude impacts all people in its path, yet those hit hardest are the ones living in poverty. During the hurricane season between June and November, hurricanes amplify poverty in the Bahamas by increasing the unemployment rate, exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities and leaving many without access to food, water and shelter.
Unemployment Rates Rise
The Bahamas relies heavily on tourism from resorts, casinos and cruise lines to support its economy. Bahamians living in poverty-stricken conditions depend upon employment from these resorts to support their families. A large storm like Dorian often reduces these resorts and casinos to rubble, leaving thousands unemployed.
Before the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian, the unemployment rate stood at 10.9%; however, after the storm, the unemployment rate rose to a staggering 50%. With a fractured economy, an abundance of destroyed homes and limited food and water, survivors of these massive storms are forced to leave their homes and families to seek employment elsewhere.
Poverty-Stricken Neighborhoods Are Left Helpless
Of those missing and pronounced dead following Dorian, many were Bahamians living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. The Mudd, a neighborhood well-known for its high levels of poverty, is just one of many that have been leveled by major hurricanes. Thousands of Haitian immigrants seek refuge in unstable wooden homes, which are no match for hurricane-force winds. 185 mph winds blown these neighborhoods to pieces.
In an interview conducted with Dorval Darlier, the chargé d’affaires of the Haitian Embassy in the Bahamas, Darlier described the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in The Mudd. He stated, “It looked like a bomb just exploded. It is completely destroyed. Not even a piece of wood stands up in The Mudd. If someone was not evacuated, they have to be dead.” Approximately 3,500 Haitian immigrants live in The Mudd and other poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
The devastation left by a hurricane increases public health risks, particularly for the poor. Bahamians living in poverty tend to take refuge in the most vulnerable areas. When a storm threatens the island, they are the least able to afford to evacuate and are often forced to stay in life-threatening conditions. Bahamian officials are required to visit these neighborhoods and urge residents to evacuate; however, many refuse to leave because they either have no place to go or are living in the Bahamas illegally.
Hurricanes Expose Inequality
In the past, hurricanes like Dorian have been known to expose the severity of inequality in the Bahamas. People living in poverty-stricken conditions, primarily Haitian immigrants, are left without homes. Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis vowed not to rebuild immigrant neighborhoods like The Mudd: he mandated that those left without homes after a storm are to be deported.
Shella Monestime, a Haitian evacuee and resident of one of these neighborhoods, spoke out following the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and the Prime Minister’s response. She stated, “We just lost everything. We have no clothes, no home, no money. We have to start all over again. People died, and all they are talking about is people getting deported.”
Relief workers in the country have emphasized the drastic nature of this social inequality. A lack of legal papers and uncertain statuses prevent immigrants from receiving assistance after a hurricane. Fear of arrest and deportation has forced the Haitian community into hiding. The Bahamian government has instructed relief workers not to provide assistance to Haitians without proper documentation.As a result, they are often left homeless and helpless after massive storms ravage the area.
Hurricane Aid Provides Hope
The American Red Cross is just one organization that helps rebuild and aid people impacted by hurricanes. In response to Hurricane Dorian, the American Red Cross provided food, shelter, clean water and emergency supplies to thousands of families displaced by the storm. As of June 30, 2020, the Red Cross had distributed over $11 million in cash to over 3,000 Bahamian families. This funding has helped families recover financially and overcome many challenges brought on by Dorian.
In partnerships with Mercy Corps, World Central Kitchen and CORE, the American Red Cross is able to continue providing thousands of gallons of clean drinking water, cash grants to business owners, fresh meals, rent payment assistance and physical aid in rebuilding homes. More than 50 disaster respondents have been deployed to the Bahamas, each with specializations in varying categories including IT/Telecommunications, relief distributions, cash-as-aid, information management, communications, shelter and finance.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has already been extremely active, with 11 storms as of August 6 and a prediction of 10 more named storms to be added to the list by the end of the year. Although hurricanes amplify poverty in the Bahamas, aid from organizations like the American Red Cross provides hope to those affected. Despite past destruction, the island continually recovers and proves its resilience as a country.
– Jacey Reece