Recovering from catastrophe in the Bahamas
Hurricane Dorian brought devastation. UNICEF is working with partners to provide relief – and some normalcy – to children and families.
MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas – Children in the Bahamas should be settling into their classes right now, with all the excitement and trepidation that a new school year typically brings. Instead, thousands of families whose worlds were turned upside down by Hurricane Dorian have been left picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.
On 1 September 2019, Category-5 Hurricane Dorian struck Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, leaving behind a path of destruction unprecedented in this Caribbean country. Thousands of children and adolescents have been affected by the storm, which flattened schools, homes and hospitals, and left cars and boats hanging in trees.
UNICEF, the government, and other partners are moving quickly to provide safe water, food, health care, and non-formal education activities and psychosocial support for children and adolescents. But the needs are enormous – many children have lost everything.
Ten-year-old Torres is one of those children. He lost his father, his home, his school – his life as he knew it – during Hurricane Dorian.
“As you can see, everything has been destroyed,” he says, standing in what is left of his old classroom at the Central Abaco public school in Marsh Harbour. “The roof, the chairs and tables, the books. In every classroom it’s the same story.”
“It was such a nice school,” he tells Hanoch Barlevi, a UNICEF Regional Emergency Specialist. “Now I don’t know where I will continue my studies.”
Catastrophic damage from the slow-moving storm, which battered the area for 48 hours, was widespread. But Marsh Harbour was particularly hard-hit. As of 15 September, the death toll had reached 50, but the number of casualties could climb significantly as search and rescue operations continue.
Four-year-old Katheleh and her mother, Marianise, were among those evacuated from Marsh Harbour after it was lashed by 300-kilometres-per-hour winds. But while many children and their families were evacuated and relocated, many remain in the storm-ravaged areas of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
At the Central Abaco School, classrooms have been devastated – furniture has been decimated, windows smashed, doors blown off. Some classrooms lost their roofs.
The buildings that somehow withstood the storm are now providing shelter for those with nowhere else to go. Maxenat is one them. She’s staying with her 16-month-old daughter at the Central Abaco Primary School, which is acting as a temporary shelter in Marsh Harbor.
“I’m a single mother,” she says. “My home is completely destroyed. I don't have anyone in Nassau. I can’t leave Abaco. I have nowhere else to go.”
Marie (second from right) is also staying at Central Abaco Primary School, taking shelter there with members of her family. Like Maxenat, she says she has been left alone to look after her children.
“I finished grade 9 and was about to start in grade 10,” says Marie’s 15-year-old daughter, Britney. But Hurricane Dorian gutted her home and her school. “I’m a good student. I want to finish high school and go to college. I want to become a doctor and help my people.”
Joochim has also been left homeless, taking shelter at the remains of a church with her two-year-old daughter. The church has collapsed, and she has been urged to find somewhere safe, but she has nowhere else to go; her home was completely destroyed.
Evans lives in Heritage, one of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods in Grand Bahama. She also lost many of her possessions in the storm – the strong winds and flooding damaged or destroyed furniture, books, clothing. But she still considers herself one of the lucky ones. “I’m sorry about my losses, but glad that no one in my family was hurt.”
Daiquania also lives in Heritage. She says she was rescued from the flooding by someone driving a tractor. “We were my mommy, my sister and my brother, and a couple of neighbours,” she says.
For those who survived the storm, the initial devastation has been followed by the threat of waterborne diseases and a lack of safe water. A joint UN rapid assessment mission in the Marsh Harbour area was quickly dispatched to assess the needs for critical services like health, education and shelter facilities, and how UNICEF and partners can help those in need.
Daiquania and her family are among those receiving assistance, including essential household from a local non-profit organization distributing supplies in Grand Bahama.
Aerial reconnaissance and preliminary assessments in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian indicated that floodwaters had compromised water and sanitation systems on Abaco and parts of Grand Bahama islands. In collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), UNICEF has already provided water and sanitation supplies, including water purification tablets, expected to help approximately 9,500 people.
Another crucial aspect of the recovery is ensuring children can get back to school – to continue their education, and to start rebuilding their shattered lives in a safe environment. Officials from the Ministry of Education have been assisting children in the process for reintegrating children into public schools. With the support of UNICEF, the government of the Bahamas is registering approximately 10,000 students displaced by Hurricane Dorian to help them get back to non-affected schools as soon as possible.
Hurricane Dorian exposed thousands of children to scenes of destruction, suffering and loss. UNICEF, the Social Services of the Government of the Bahamas and partners are working to ensure that schools are not only somewhere to learn, but places where internal wounds can be allowed to heal. With support from the National Emergency Management Agency, IsraAid, a UNICEF partner organization, has been facilitating daily arts and sport activities as part of the psychosocial support being offered to children affected by the storm.
Displaced students registering for school are also be able to access other services during the reintegration process, including medical screenings required for school enrolment, uniform and lunch assistance, and referrals for counseling services and enrolment in social, sporting and extra-curricular activities. At the registration centre at the Thomas Robinson National Stadium, children are collecting clothing items.
Hurricane Dorian turned the lives of thousands of children upside down. Ensuring families have access to essential goods and support – and helping children get back into school – can help those affected make a new start. For more on UNICEF’s response, click here.