Monday, 13 January 2020 | Baha Mar Convention Centre | 9:00 A. M.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
Let me begin by once again thanking the United Nations and its various agencies, including the UN Development Program, for its partnership and assistance in the aftermath of what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted was Category Hell when describing Hurricane Dorian.
I thank the representatives from other countries who are here today as friends and partners, a number of whom rendered emergency assistance and aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
I also thank the various partners in the business and in the NGO community who are here today to pledge their support to help to rebuild and to reconstruct our second and third most populous islands and economic centers.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Allow me to take a slight liberty with the English poet John Donne’s words, which though sometimes overused, are I think, appropriate in this instance, especially in the context of the global climate emergency.
Donne famously wrote in his poem, “No Man is An Island: “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.”
Every Bahamian island is a part of the main and every Bahamian is a part of each other.
We cannot afford as a country to be New Providence-centric. As head of government, it is my constitutional, ethical responsibility, and duty, to be as concerned about the needs of all Bahamians, whether they reside in Mathew Town, Inagua, or Central Andros, or South Eleuthera.
The child who lives in Crooked Island deserves as good an education as much as a child who lives on Nassau. We are One Bahamas, all a part of the main! The islands and cays of The Bahamas are like the organs of a single body that is the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. When any of these organs are damaged or hurt we must restore them and make them healthy.
Only then is the entire body stronger and more resilient. In rebuilding Abaco, the Abaco Cays, and Grand Bahama, we are restoring and rebuilding the Bahamas Commonwealth, which is why the theme of this donor conference is: “Rebuilding a Stronger and More Resilient Bahamas”. Likewise, the Abaco Cays are a part of the Abaco mainland.
The Abaco Cays will play a vital role in the renewal of all of Abaco. The Bahamas and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a part of the main. We must not be ignored or sidelined by the larger countries or the continents of the world, which must bear their responsibility in helping countries like ours to confront the existential and myriad challenges of our warming planet.
These challenges include even more destructive weather events compounded by the many threats associated with climate change. This includes more devastating hurricanes and typhoons.
Here at home, we must be able to prepare for such storms in areas ranging from our building codes, to concessionary financing from international financial institutions in various areas.
As I noted during my most recent UN General Assembly address:
For many years, The Bahamas and countries with similar characteristics have urged an alternative to per capita Gross National Income as the sole indicator of a country’s level of development and eligibility for concessionary financing. When we call for consideration of a country’s unique local circumstances when determining financial worthiness, this is also a condition and requirement for our resilience. The Bahamas is a testament to the ability of SIDS to manage debt, despite such external setbacks.
Further, small countries like The Bahamas, do not possess the full suite of resources necessary to confront natural disasters like Hurricane Dorian.
We do not possess the resources necessary to address challenges ranging from coastal resilience, to the depletion of coral, both of which are vital to tourism, our main economic engine, as well as to fisheries and the health of marine environment and mangroves. Though countries in CARICOM are small, we are a part of the main. Our voices must and will be heard in the corridors of decision-making.
The very survival of our homelands, our cultures and our people are at stake.
Our existence as sovereign, independent nations is at stake from various types of natural disasters, which may compound each other.
By example, some jurisdictions in our region are under threat from both hurricanes and earthquakes, making their ability to rebuild and to recover exceedingly more difficult.
There can be no sustainable development if we are left to the mercies of every hurricane season, with ever intensifying storms, and storm surges, which seem to grow higher and stronger, threatening our defences and willpower.
We cannot make meaningful progress toward or achieve sustainable development goals, if, as forecasters are predicting, that recent cyclonic and other extreme climate events are poised to become the new normal, and may worsen.
When one storm can obliterate an island-state or a number of states in one hurricane season: how will we survive, how can we develop, how will we continue to exist? For The Bahamas, the most far-flung and extensive archipelago in the region, with many islands and cays, our challenges are even more varied.
I am also mindful of the recent hurricanes which devastated our neighbors in Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and other regional neighbors. We are all a part of the main, which is why regional solidarity and cooperation are critical.
In this regard, I again thank our CARICOM partners for their extraordinary assistance and resources in the aftermath of Dorian. The advice of a number of CARICOM leaders to me in the days and weeks after Dorian was invaluable.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Secretary-General Guterres described Hurricane Dorian, one of the worst storms ever in the Atlantic, as, “turbocharged.” When he surveyed the devastation on Abaco by helicopter on 14 September, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he was, “… Horrified by the level of devastation”, and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
I often repeat this assessment of the horror of Hurricane Dorian by the Secretary General, because it appears that some still do not recognize the level of devastation, destruction, and despair, caused by the Hurricane just over four months ago.
There has been progress on the ground on Abaco, the Abaco Cays, and Grand Bahama, including the removal of debris and the restoration of various services. Despite the progress, someone visiting especially Abaco and the Abaco Cays these four months later, will be shocked by the scope and scale of the devastation and the enormous, complex and many challenges of rebuilding. Though this was a generational tragedy, we must rebuild as smartly and as speedily as possible. But there is still a very long road ahead.
This conference and other such efforts are an essential part of the rebuilding process. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, (UNECLAC) estimate that the total damage, loss and additional costs in four primary categories on the affected islands at approximately $3.4 billion dollars.
These four primary categories are: social, infrastructure, productive areas of the economy, and the environment. My Government has already prepared specific reconstruction delivery plans, which have been cross-referenced with the damage and loss assessment.
We have addressed six sectors: housing; the environment and debris clean up; education; health; infrastructure; and the economy. From these reconstruction delivery plans, we have identified and prepared specific project concepts. Let me re-emphasize that private sector, NGO, and international contributions must be aligned with the priority areas of the Government of The Bahamas.
Correspondingly, as I have previously noted, we are urgently seeking to raise funds to complement the Government’s $10 million already given for home repairs.
As we rebuild smarter and with resilience, I note that the houses in the new subdivisions will be powered by solar energy and will include battery storage. Let me also note that we intend to simplify a number of investment requirements and expedite investment applications for Bahamian and international investors for Abaco, the Abaco Cays, and East End, and West End, Grand Bahama. We will provide further details on this in the weeks ahead.
I wish to end by thanking the leaders and officials of the new Ministry for Reconstruction and the Reconstruction Authority for all of their hard work. We are in new territory, which is often challenging, but can be rewarding if we rebuild stronger and better. We have to think and to act boldly and in new ways.
Outdated mindsets and procedures which no longer serve the country will have to be jettisoned.
The Authority has much work to do and is working to boost their capacity in a number of areas.
They are working through unnecessary bottlenecks and they have been given the mandate and the flexibility to act decisively.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I close by reminding you of the final lines of John Donne’s poem.
Donne wrote: “Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” We are connected to the earth and to each other.
The death of those who perished in Dorian and the devastation suffered by the survivors are a part of each of us. We are all involved in humankind and bear responsibility for rebuilding the lives and the communities affected by Dorian. The bell that tolls is the bell of responsibility, which we all share as fellow human beings and citizens of the global commons.
I thank all of you who have heard this call and who are answering with generosity and hope and fortitude.
Thank you and good morning.