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Homelessness in the BahamasHurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas on Sept. 3, 2019. It loitered for three days over Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands, the northernmost parts of the archipelago. A Category 5 hurricane, it was the worst storm ever to befall the small island nation. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimates Hurricane Dorian’s damages to the Bahamas at $3.4 billion, including almost $15 million in housing damage. All of the damage has led to severe cases of homelessness in the Bahamas.

Exacerbation of Bahamian Homelessness

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that Dorian destroyed 1,100 buildings and damaged 2,300 more in the Abaco Islands’ largest town, Marsh Harbor, alone. Among displaced Bahamians, Maxine Ferguson, mother of two teenage boys, former hotel employee and lifelong resident in Abaco, has neither insurance nor the money to rebuild her home. She shares her predicament with many Dorian survivors, thousands of whom struggle to find new sources of income following the hurricane’s destruction of their former workplaces without cars or clothes for interviews.

Economic Impact of the Storm

Due to the hurricane, the nation faces a complicated and expensive process combatting joblessness. Homelessness in the Bahamas has also proved to be a struggle in the months following the storm. Dr. Pallab Mozumder, an environmental economist at Florida International University, predicts the cost of public and private reconstruction in the northern Bahamas could reach $15 to $25 billion.

Besides immediate construction costs, Dorian has had an ongoing economic impact on some of the nation’s largest industries, including fisheries, agriculture and tourism. The economic impact is due to asset damage, loss of potential revenue and loss of additional public and private spending.

Tourism supports nearly half of the Bahama’s $5.7 billion GDP. Fortunately, large resort locations in Nassau, the nation’s capital, remained unharmed during the storm. These locations are in other southern areas of the archipelago as well. However, smaller resorts and rentals in the Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands, which are the locations of 19% of all hotel rooms in the nation, were destroyed.

The IDB calculates total damages to the tourism industry at nearly $530 million. This is in addition to over $325 million in lost potential revenue. Fisheries and agriculture, which support 5% of the nation’s GDP, faced over $13.5 million in damage. They also faced more than $10 million in lost potential revenue.

Opportunities for a Storm-Resilient Future

So far, Hurricane Dorian has had an economic impact and exacerbation of homelessness in the Bahamas. However, the storm’s infrastructural destruction offers a novel opportunity to emphasize storm resiliency. This opportunity is available in government and private financing of future construction and conservation projects on the impacted islands. Bahamians like Ken Hutton, head of the Abaco Chamber of Commerce and founder of Project Resurrect, advocate to make green, storm-resilient construction a priority as the Bahamas rebuild a devastated community.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) anticipates increased frequency and intensity of natural hazards in the Bahamas. It also urges prudent resource allocation to mitigate the future impacts of natural disasters. An ecosystem investment study conducted by Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project proposes investing in the natural ecosystem. Investing in coastal forests, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses surrounding the islands would provide future storm resiliency. This study, among others, indicates that healthy natural ecosystems defend communities against storms more resiliently than manmade infrastructure. Instead, manmade infrastructure can be costly to build and maintain. The health of marine ecosystems also contributes to fishery health, which protects industries like tourism and fishing in the storm’s economic aftermath.

Further safeguards to protect against storm-induced homelessness in the Bahamas include settlement relocation and storm-resilient infrastructure design. Possibilities include revised building codes that mandate elevated structures to prevent flooding and installation of windows. They also include doors that can withstand high wind speeds, underground utility systems and strategic placement of dunes and indigenous plants to aid site drainage.

Avery Saklad
Photo: United Nations

Homelessness in SurinameSuriname is a small country located in northern South America, bearing an abundance of natural resources and a range of cultures. Like many others, this nation stems from a history of colonialism. Therefore, many of its Indigenous populations experienced displacement in favor of immigrants since the 16th century. However, homelessness in Suriname remains a problem, as the country struggles with poverty and economic development.

An Ongoing Housing Problem

Despite having plenty of economic assets, Suriname has struggled to build a stable economy due to a number of factors. Corruption within the government has tarnished many economic sectors dominated by state-owned firms. Consistent economic depreciation has also made Suriname a less appealing destination for foreign aid and investment. However, the recent discovery of oil fields has ignited some interest in that market.

A failure to manage credit, public debt, tax collection and monetary policy are chief reasons for an increase in inflation. This has further led to the suppression of property rights among citizens. Unfortunately, the government’s repossession of citizens’ property and land has only worsened poverty and homelessness in Suriname. The government owns 98% of the country’s land, which has not benefited working-class citizens. Furthermore, this scarcity of private property has made it increasingly difficult for many workers to acquire their own land and achieve economic stability.

Homelessness in Suriname: The Statistics

Homelessness in Suriname is reportedly low, but the numbers are deceptive. Only homeless people in populous areas count in official statistics, which disregard people outside of these regions. This is because there are few mechanisms in place to matriculate citizens in Suriname. Additionally, only two organizations address homelessness in Suriname. There is also no day-and-night shelter for the homeless to take sanctuary in the capital city of Paramaribo. In recent years, this has left the homeless susceptible to violent attacks without any actionable means for justice or prevention.

In 2019, the government evicted 37 permanent residents from two shelters, which got shut down suddenly without clear reason. Overall, Suriname lacks a reliable infrastructure to address the growing prevalence of informal settlements, housing crises and urban sprawl. This has led non-governmental organizations to stage a plan for restoring land and property rights to destitute populations in Suriname.

The Government and an NGO Compete for a Solution

Suriname instituted a program in 2011 intending to divest land capital from the government back to its citizens. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) financed the program. Specifically, the program gave a one-time subsidy to low-income beneficiaries. Chosen by a sophisticated targeting system that subverted self-reported income statements, these beneficiaries received $3,000. This money improved current housing situations or went toward a down payment for a new home on another property.

However, beneficiaries had to own the land on which to build that house. This is an anomaly for almost any citizen, especially poor citizens. The program’s inherent bias toward those who already owned a home continued to alienate the most vulnerable. It also disregarded the goal to restore land rights to homeless people. Overall, the program exposed how unaffordable and infeasible land ownership is in Suriname. Only 87 new homes came out of this program as of November 2014, leaving homelessness in Suriname unresolved.

An Action Plan for Paramaribo

The IDB itself created an action plan in 2019 to address the alarming rate of housing disenfranchisement in Paramaribo. The plan outlines a comprehensive year-long study to map out the extent of homelessness in Suriname. It also includes strategies to transform informal living situations into habitable shelters. Specifically, one strategy the plan described was the implementation of a housing quality program. This would staff a project team to monitor and collect data from citizens who live in precarious situations.

The staff would also work in conjunction with an unburdening program to help families in financial duress. By locating and obtaining the means to build on new land, the program would help families resolve their housing deprivation.  In total, the IDB’s 264-page action plan reflects a steadfast effort to reduce homelessness in Suriname from an NGO. This is in stark contrast to the country’s government.

Conclusion

There is no one solution to the decaying stability of property rights and housing ownership in Suriname. Working-class citizens and homeless people alike can only hope for other well-funded NGOs like the IDB to intervene in issues neglected by the government. With this sort of dedicated assistance, homelessness in Suriname can decline within the next few years.

– Camden Gilreath
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Barbados

Barbados is known as a beautiful tourist destination in the Caribbean, but poverty in Barbados is still an issue that is being addressed.

  1. Poverty levels have been experiencing an overall rise since 1996. Household poverty rates increased from 8.7 percent to 15 percent and individual poverty rates increased from 13.9 percent to 19.3 percent.
  2. A Caribbean Development Bank report notes that the conditions of those living below the poverty threshold is favorable compared to other countries in the Caribbean.
  3. Because Barbados is relatively small and still in development, it is susceptible to external economic shocks, meaning that external variables outside of Barbados can have a notable impact on its economy.
  4. Household structure carries a major correlation to household poverty. Poor households often exhibit overcrowding.
  5. About 60 percent of poor households are female headed. Additionally, a gender gap seems to exist in the workforce, with women earning about 0.75 of what men make for similar services, while also experiencing segregation from certain jobs. The ratio of non-earners to earners is also highest in female-headed households.
  6. Overcrowding in poor households has actually declined from 17.0 percent to 11.0 percent, and the unemployment rate in poor households declined from 30.8 percent to 25.9 percent.
  7. Barbados was ranked among the top 50 countries in terms of its human development status. Of note, 99.7 percent of the population is literate.
  8. Last year, Barbados agreed to a $10 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) that will be used to combat poverty. Some of the goals include funding daycare services and school supplies as well as providing counseling for those seeking jobs.

While poverty in Barbados is still an issue, efforts are underway to change the status quo and improve the lives of future generations.

Edmond Kim

Photo: Flickr