After the storm: How The Bahamas continues to rebuild after Hurricane Dorian

Bahamian working with a water tender truck.

It’s been over six months since Hurricane Dorian made landfall on The Bahamas.

In those first 48 hours, entire communities were destroyed. Even more were without water, food and power. People who had just survived the unimaginable were unable to find loved ones, adding fear and anxiety to an already horrific situation. Homes were destroyed. Schools and hospitals had no electricity. Over 200 wells were flooded with ocean water, leaving families without safe water for drinking and basic hygiene. With the world now in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, the danger of disease spreading from a lack of clean water for hand washing and sanitation is even more clear.

Immediately after the storm, Mercy Corps was on the ground providing emergency support to community members in need.

By collaborating with the Mission Resolve Foundation, we managed to build a reverse-osmosis water treatment plant that could produce over 7,500 gallons of clean water in a day, an amazing accomplishment during those early moments of the crisis. It has been six months since Dorian made landfall and today, Mercy Corps is producing nearly 16,000 gallons of safe drinking water each day.

 

To help community members reconnect with loved ones and get key information about emergency support services in the area, we distributed over 500 solar-powered lanterns equipped with USB chargers to community members in need. These lanterns did more than just provide light in times of darkness. They gave community members a sense of safety as they walked the streets at night. They helped families reconnect with loved ones and emergency services and helped health centers and hospitals continue operations while they were without power.

Mercy Corps team members unpack solar charged lanterns to distribute to people living in darkness.
Many are still without power. Solar lights distributed by Mercy Corps help Regina (above) and her family light an entire room at night, and even charge their phones.

But, the work is far from over.

As we inch closer and closer to the one year anniversary of Hurricane Dorian, the focus shifts from short-term emergency support to long-term, lasting recovery for The Bahamas.

After Dorian, access to water remains critical

Jeremiah, 19, has been working as a water point volunteer since recovery efforts first began on Grand Bahama Island in fall 2019.

One of the most pressing needs for communities on Grand Bahama and Little Abaco islands, two islands that were severely affected by Hurricane Dorian, is still access to clean water. Without access to clean water, everyday tasks like cooking, drinking and brushing your teeth become that much more challenging.

For Jeremiah, a 19-year-old water point volunteer, the need for water is personal. He and his family, which includes his two parents and four siblings, were left without water when the storm first made landfall last September.

Even though their home wasn’t damaged, they were — and still are — without water and power.

“...the first problem was you couldn't bathe, that's number one. Couldn't wash your clothes, let alone brush your teeth. So that's the main problem for me after the storm,” he said.

Ever since the storm hit, Jeremiah has been volunteering to help communities get access to clean water. He volunteers full time, working 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day at the water point, helping Mercy Corps with water distribution projects.

His community is still in need of support, Jeremiah says, but reliable access to clean water remains a top priority.

“...water's like number one. You know what I'm saying so we need water cause we need it just for cooking you know what I'm saying. This water, what we have now coming through our faucets, it's destroying heaters. So water is the main, main, main deal. Big, big deal,” he says.

Hospitals continue to struggle with overcrowding

Debbie, a unit manager at an outpatient clinic in Freeport, says that her hospital has been experiencing flux since Hurricane Dorian first hit over six months ago. The clinic was flooded and was subsequently closed for three weeks. Once they reopened, they not only resumed their usual services, but also picked up services from a hospital in Rand that was closer to the flood zone and no longer able to serve patients.

They’re seeing over double the patients than they did previously because of the Rand hospital’s shutting down. Her staff has also doubled and their pharmacy is open longer in order to meet the needs of patients.

Debbie’s hospital has taken on over double the patients since Hurricane Dorian. One of the hospital’s biggest struggles has been consistent access to clean water.

Despite the challenges that come with an increased number of patients and needing to stay open longer, the support Debbie has received from organizations like Mercy Corps has allowed her to support mothers and children as they get back on their feet after Dorian.

“... we’re getting lots of supplies, lots of supplies, particularly for infants and children. We have supplies now at the back that – we have a child health clinic, and as they leave, we’re able to give mothers supplies for their babies,” Debbie says.

Like Jeremiah, Debbie says that water is a high-priority need for the hospital. The water they were using before was too salinated to use for sanitary purposes.

The impact of having water on-site has been great, Debbie says, immediately accessible water has made operations for her staff significantly easier.

“it’s been tremendous in that it’s a source that’s so accessible. The staff is able to use it. Mostly the staff I would say, because where it’s located at the back, the public isn’t aware of it so much because, you know, the back isn’t accessed by patients. So it’s been tremendous in that, you know, it’s accessible to us here,” Debbie says.

Looking towards the future, Debbie hopes that nearby clinics will continue to reopen their doors and take in more patients to alleviate the pressure they’ve been under.

“We’re making it work because everybody knows there was a storm and we’re not in our normal element, so we’re making it work but it’s not comfortable for patients or staff... Basically, we just try to work with what we have.”

Small business owners are working hard to reopen

Virginia and her colleagues fill up water bottles at a distribution point.
As a Mercy Corps Economic Recovery Program Officer, Virginia has been working tirelessly to help small business owners get back on their feet by awarding grants to eligible businesses.

Small businesses are the backbone of many economies across the world, including The Bahamas. Supporting small businesses is a vital part of recovery, which is why Mercy Corps’ Economic Recovery program is so important. 

The Economic Recovery Program awards grants to small business owners in The Bahamas who are in need of financial support as they begin their journey to rebuild their businesses and their lives after Dorian. Awardees can receive up to $10,000 or up to 75% of their financial need. 

According to Virginia, a program officer for the Economic Recovery Program, they’ve awarded 19 grants since the program was initially put in place. They have the funding to support up to 200 small businesses and have had over 100 applicants in the most recent awarding cycle. 

“Pretty much they just have to meet the criteria which is be a small, micro or medium sized enterprise. They have to have been in business for at least one year. They have to apply. And those are pretty much the main requirements. It’s actually pretty easy,” Virginia says. 

The program supports all kinds of businesses, like tech companies, hull cleaning services, beachside restaurants and more. Virginia’s dive company was one of the 19 awardees. 

The goal of the program is simple: to support once-established business owners and help jumpstart their recovery process, so they can get back to work and be able to support themselves and their families.

“...I think now that people are actually seeing people getting money, there’s excitement coming and hope coming back. And I think as the program goes on more it’s going to be more attraction, more excitement, you know people are going to talk about it and it’s going to be a lot more work to do,” Virginia says.

Virginia (right) with her friend and colleague Tezel (left), a Mercy Corps WASH Program Officer.

This isn’t the first time Virginia has been affected by a hurricane, in her lifetime, she’s been directly affected by seven hurricanes. She’s seen the damage hurricanes can do to homes and businesses. Without capital, businesses can’t rebuild because they don’t have the funds to do so —  but without support from the community and outside programs, business owners feel like they don’t have the time or bandwidth to spend on rebuilding.

Despite the challenges over the past six months, Virginia is hopeful for the future and confident that her community will rebuild and recover.

“I think we’re a really resilient people. And it’s been a humbling experience for a lot of people. And so, it’s just kind of like, we just gotta keep going. And, we are, like I said. It’s a very, very resilient community.” Virginia adds, “You’d be surprised how many people are rebuilding and are trying to get back to their homes and want to come back and get back to the lives that they know.”

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