The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian

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The aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas. Photo by Nadim Saghir The aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas. Photo by Nadim Saghir

I have never seen this level of destruction. I was deployed to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, New York after Superstorm Sandy, northeast Nigeria after the worst of the Boko Haram insurgency, and to Somalia and Malawi after devastating droughts and floods delivered destruction on a tragic level. But mere walking through the worst hit areas of Abaco in northern Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian provided a glimpse of what total devastation really looks like. 

Informal settlements like Pigeon Peas and the Mudd in downtown Marsh Harbor, on the Abaco island, are now completely flattened, littered with the remnants of daily life such as appliances, clothing, and construction debris. Cars and shipping containers lay everywhere, tossed around as children’s’ toys. Close to the waterfront, where colorful restaurants, marinas and inns once stood, only the battered remnants of buildings remained. And in the worst hit areas, as my colleague Paloma Zapata stated, “The stench is gut-wrenching. This is surely the smell of death.”

Hurricane Dorian—one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes to make landfall and the strongest to ever hit the Bahamas—struck the archipelago of 700 islands as a Category 5 storm on September 1, where it remained almost stationary for two days, packing sustained winds up to 185 mph (298 km/h) and producing 12-15 inches (30-38 cm) of rain and storm surges of 18-23 feet (5-7 meters) above sea level. Hardest hit were the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama in northern Bahamas. As of October 4, 61 deaths have been attributed to the hurricane, 692 people are still missing and more than 1,600 are in emergency shelters. 


Click here to take a 360 degree tour of the damage wrought by Dorian on Abaco.


The World Bank’s Engagement

A couple weeks after Dorian made landfall, I led a World Bank mission to The Bahamas to support Government and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) with post-disaster assessments and recovery planning. This was a challenging mission because the relevant authorities and agencies were still in the throes of immediate response efforts. In addition, the outpouring of international support, while welcome, meant that a high level of coordination was necessary. 

On the ground, our Bank team focused on coordinating with traditional post-disaster partners—among them the United Nations, European Union, Inter-American Development Bank, and International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies—on how to best support the Government as they move beyond the assessment phase to recovery planning. Assessing the physical damages and economic losses inflicted by a disaster is just the first step of the recovery process.  

Key next steps for Government include developing multi-sectoral recovery strategies and setting up a Recovery and Resilience Framework to ensure that the requisite institutions, policies, financing strategies, as well as coordination, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are in place to guide the recovery program. With funding from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, the Bank stands ready to support these efforts should there be a Government request.  

As the mission team worked on the ground—contributing expertise to an initial CDEMA-led damage assessment in Abaco, the World Bank’s Global Rapid Damage Estimation (GRADE) team worked remotely to develop a quick assessment of the damages to the residential, infrastructure, and tourism sectors.  The results of these preliminary assessments have been shared with Government to aid with recovery planning.

Signs of hope and recovery

Amidst the devastation, there is reason to be encouraged by the resilience and resourcefulness of The Bahamas.  Government is taking a pro-active approach to the challenge of recovery, announcing the creation of a new Ministry—the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction—to lead the recovery and reconstruction efforts and a major restructuring of the National Emergency Management Association. 

Across Abaco and Grand Bahama, the private sector is engaging in the relief and recovery efforts, with cruise lines and other tourism-linked companies doing their part.  Residents who had not evacuated before or after Dorian are also taking matters into their own hands, clearing debris and rebuilding their lives. On Elbow Cay and Green Turtle Cay, some of the many islands that make up the Abacos, residents have begun importing construction materials to rebuild their community. 

Clearly, it will take a massive, years long effort to recover, but The Bahamas has the benefit of starting out with some of the fundamental ingredients necessary for recovery :  a Government that understands the threat of climate change and the importance of building back better; international partners who are committed to supporting and investing in recovery efforts; a private sector that is rolling up its sleeves; and, importantly, communities that are determined to bounce back from the fury of Hurricane Dorian.


Alexander Agosti

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

Paloma Zapata

World Bank consultant and CEO of Sustainable Travel International

Nadim Saghir

Consultant for the Disaster Risk Management Unit

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