The Bahamas is still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which greatly injured two of the countries’ islands in late 2019. However, the residents are facing a bigger challenge involving access to clean water and toilets, which is putting them at great risk of a major public health emergency. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in The Bahamas.
10 Facts About Sanitation in The Bahamas
- The Lack of Access to Clean Water: A lack of access to clean water often becomes a public health issue very quickly. A lot of the water in The Bahamas became contaminated with salt water right after the hurricane. Water Mission, a nonprofit organization based in North Carolina, designs, builds and implements safe water and sanitation solutions. After the Dorian hurricane, the organization tried to help sanitation in The Bahamas by implementing a process called fine-filtration, which removes salt from water through reverse osmosis.
- Diseases: Each day, around 6,000 children die from waterborne diseases around the world. The Grand Bahama Island experienced flooding after Hurricane Dorian, potentially increasing the transmission of waterborne diseases like diarrhea and cholera. UNICEF has provided aid by providing WASH services. Additionally, Heart to Heart International has been on the ground in the aftermath of Hurrican Dorian, administering tetanus vaccines to prevent infections from unclean water.
- Sewage: The Bahamas has always struggled to bring clean water to its community. The Water and Sewerage Corporation emerged in 1976 to help bring clean water to all islands and received $32 million from the World Bank. By 2014, the corporation had saved over one billion gallons of water through the reduction of water losses in New Providence.
- Hospitals and Housing: The Bahamas has 28 health centers, 33 main clinics and 35 satellite clinics plus two private hospitals located in the main inhabited islands. After the Hurricane hit the Islands, the International Medical Corps provided help to The Bahamas by bringing in doctors and nurses, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene specialists and 140 water kits comprising of family filters and hygiene kits.
- Economy: With 14 other islands in good shape in the aftermath of Hurrican Dorian, the government encouraged tourists to not cancel their vacation trips. The Minister of Tourism in The Bahamas said in an interview with The New York Times that the only means of aiding those in the north of The Bahamas was to continue tourism in the other 14 islands. This would allow the country to rebuild Abaco and Grand Bahama and help fix sewage and provide clean water. Around 4 million tourists visited The Bahamas in the six months before the hurricane, and only 20 percent of those travelers visited Abaco and Grand Bahama Island. This represented more than half of its gross domestic product.
- Health Care: Health Care has been one of the main priorities in The Bahamian governments’ agenda. In fact, it directed 12 percent of its budget to health. Around 47.2 percent of the general population had health insurance, and females were more likely to get insurance (47 percent) than males (45 percent). The primary care package in The Bahamas is medical services, medications and imaging and laboratory services. After the hurricane, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) sent professionals to assist in on-site assessments of health infrastructures and water sanitation and hygiene facilities (WASH) that had operation rooms flooded with contaminated water.
- Urban vs. Rural: Urban areas often bring development, better health care and living conditions. However, despite the fact that The Bahamas has a high percentage of urban areas at 83 percent in comparison to the 16.98 percent of rural areas, it still has limited water development. In fact, the country is not in the top 20 for the Caribbean.
- Current Poverty Rate: Sanitation in The Bahamas is always in danger because of the constant threats of new storms passing by the islands. In 2017, before hurricane Dorian, 14.8 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. That percentage grew rather than decreased leading up to 2017.
- Population Growth: The Bahamas had a population of 392,225 as of 2020, but has been suffering a decrease since 2007. In that year, the growth percentage was at 1.7 percent, whereas it was at 0.97 percent in 2020. With the increase in population, the National Health System Strategic Plan is aiming to educate communities to ensure optimal health and good quality of life. However, even with numbers, The Bahamas is still a country with limited basic sanitation services.
- Menstrual Hygiene Management: After hurricane Dorian, many women and adolescents did not have shelter or access to toilets. This presented a lack of privacy and compromised their ability to manage menstruation hygienically and with dignity. The Women’s Haven, a company distributing organic feminine hygiene products, wants to help Bahamians by switching to a better approach that will help improve their menstrual hygiene.
While Dorian impacted sanitation in The Bahamas in late 2019, the challenges for clean, accessible water continues to affect Bahamians today. With continued investment in tourism and the involvement of relief organizations, The Bahamas should hopefully recover soon.
– Merlina San Nicolás