Parliamentary Statement: The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, MP Prime Minister of Jamaica on Jamaica’s Response to the Impact of Hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas
Mr Speaker, two years ago I rose in this Honourable House to speak about the “brutality and ferocity” of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. At that time, I reflected on the words of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica whose island was totally devasted when he addressed the 2017 United Nations General Assembly; He said “Let these extraordinary events elicit extraordinary efforts to rebuild nations substantially” and that is the case today particularly for the Bahamas particularly the islands of Freeport and Abaco.
Today; Members of this Honourable House will recall the devastating impact of Category 5 Hurricane Dorian on the neighbouring islands of the Bahamas only nine days ago on September 1.
Mr Speaker, the intensity of hurricanes in recent times has clearly demonstrated the effect of climate change and the resulting economic impact.
Hurricane Dorian packed wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, but what was unique about this Hurricane was that it moved at one mile per hour and therefore hovered for many hours over the area it eventually destroyed.
As a result, the hardest hit parts of the Bahamas were the Great Abacos and Grand Bahama. Dorian’s movement over the Great Abacos and Grand Bahama lasted approximately sixty (60) hours which resulted in surge heights that is waves being pushed in off the sea of 18-23 feet so that is enough to cover a two-story building.
At last update from the authorities in the Bahamas, there were 50 persons confirmed dead (42 from Abaco and 8 from Grand Bahama). Jamaica continues to stand with our brothers and sisters and Bahamian friends during this testing time.
I have been in personal contact with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis who has expressed that this is a difficult period for the people of the Bahamas. Indeed, with the regularity of global events of this magnitude, now more than ever we must be our brothers’ keepers.
As this Honourable House is aware, thousands of Jamaicans live and work in the Bahamas. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has been updated on the situation with Jamaicans in the most impacted areas in the Bahamas. Thankfully, there has been no reports of deaths of Jamaicans as a result of Hurricane Dorian. However, the latest information is that 31 Jamaicans have requested, evacuation from the Great Abaco islands. Of that number, we can confirm that 21 have now been evacuated and are being housed by the Honorary Consul. Of course, this is a fluid situation, and this may change by the time of me giving this report.
Jamaica is assisting in the relief and reconstruction efforts. Assessments done to date indicate predominant humanitarian needs include safe drinking water, shelter, support and measures to restore power and access. The Red Cross is providing the kind of support services to deal with those who have experienced trauma.
In fact, Mr Speaker, Jamaica; as a member of CARICOM has responsibility as the regional focal point for the North-Western Caribbean, including Haiti, Belize, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). In addition to the efforts of Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Jamaica has offered practical help to the Bahamas.
A number of key agencies are a part of the response:
These key agencies are:
- Jamaica Defence Force (JDF)
- The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM)
- Jamaica Red Cross (JRC)
- Ministry of Tourism
- Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB)
- Ministry of Health and Wellness
- National Water Commission (NWC)
- Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF)
- National Spatial Data Management Division (NSDMD)
- The Ministry of Local Government and Community Development (MLGCD)
The Agencies report that there has been significant damage to infrastructure, housing and coastal areas of the northern islands and damage to fuel storage. The emergency response so far has included rescue and recovery operations, and these continue.
On Saturday, September 7, I deployed the Jamaica Defence Force Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to the Bahamas.
Previously through ODPEM, Jamaica sent an oil refinery specialist from Petrojam and a coastal zone specialist from NEPA and they returned 2 days ago.
The DART from the JDF is currently in the Bahamas and it is composed of soldiers with various skill sets who are configured to respond to natural disasters in the region.
Mr Speaker, I must highlight that in the spirit of cooperation that exists between Canada and Jamaica, the Canadian Air Force have assisted us with the provision of a C-130 Aircraft to provide airlift to transport the members of the DART team to perform the requisite tasks.
The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) will undertake:
- They will assist the government of the Bahamas with the construction of temporary accommodation; that is with tents.
- They will assist with the establishment of relief distribution areas.
- They will assist with aid convoy protection
- They will assist with the clearing of distribution routes
- They will conduct key point protection
- they will assist the government of Bahamas with security tasks as requested
- And they will assist with the re-establishment of power supply
The Government of Jamaica has established a donations account through:
National Commercial Bank (NCB) – Oxford Road Branch
Account Number: 212387304
Name: ODPEM Donation Account
Mr Speaker, we continue to monitor and assess the situation and we will respond as required. We encourage all Jamaicans to donate to the effort; the major need now, of course, would be for any assistance that would help the people of the Bahamas in particularly the affected areas in providing potable water son pumps, mobile treatment plants, that kind of equipment would be very useful.
Mr Speaker, this statement is obviously to update Jamaica on the situation in the Bahamas, but I believe I should take the opportunity to say to Jamaicans that the season appears to be a very active one. Already there are three disturbances that could be upgraded to tropical cyclones; they are not at that point yet, but they are being monitored. Jamaica should be prepared and I’m saying this bearing in mind what has happened to the Bahamas; Jamaicans should be prepared, and this means stocking up on the supplies that you would need in the event of a storm; your candles, your batteries, your can food, your water supply, warm clothing.
Also, Mr Speaker, I want to take the opportunity to say to persons who live in low-lying areas or areas that have in the past been flood-prone or have been affected in times of hurricanes that whilst your property is important, I would think that your life is more important than your property and so it is wise now we’re in the hurricane season to start putting together your alternative plans, make contact with those relatives that you have in safer areas or friends that you have in the event that you have to evacuate, plan out your routes, your mode of transportation if the worst should happen.
Mr Speaker, we have already started as a government to put in place our response plans. We always have plans in place. The ODPEM and all the agencies that are involved in first response in the event of a hurricane; we always have these plans in place, we’re meeting constantly but given what has happened in 2017 when we experienced two category 5 hurricanes that wiped out entire countries and then what has happened now, I believe we have to intensify our planning and I have always held the view that when we were threatened by hurricane Mathew that it is important that the Parliament is mobilized and that MPs which are not necessarily trained as first responders but that is the truth that the MPs often times would be the first symbol of state authority in the communities along with the Councillors and we see the response in the Bahamas where people have said they are not seeing the response from the state and I can well imagine the stress that the government is under given the spatial distribution of the island and the requirement for airlift and sea-lift that it can really stretch government resources but it is always important that there is at least a voice from the political representation to ensure that people have a sense of direction and feel some level of confidence that the government will respond.
Mr Speaker, in thinking about if there were to be God forbid, any form of a natural disaster affecting Jamaica, in having a comprehensive plan, I’m saying in this House that members of parliament should start to put together their own plans. Yes, you have to do that because you know your constituency best. When the emergency response teams have to come from Kingston or wherever else we have to mobilize them from, they would need to have a contact person, a point person and often times that would have to be the Member of Parliament so I’m urging MPs to start thinking in this way looking in your constituency to see the communities that may be at risk, start to make contact with them so that they are prepared to move if they have to move, start the conversation about evacuation and how you will secure those areas that are evacuated; all of those pre-planning is necessary for recovery and resilience.
Mr Speaker, with those comments I commend my statements to the House.