Catastrophic winds and storm surge have long since receded in the Bahamas, but the devastation caused by this summer’s Category Five Hurricane Dorian, the strongest in the country’s history, has left the islands staggering.
In Abaco and Grand Bahama there is rubble as far as the eye can see. The storm affected some 75,000 residents, many of whom were evacuated. Estimates suggest that there are nearly 1.7 million cubic metres of debris, with a clean-up price in the millions. Total property losses have been estimated at US$7 billion.
In the last week of September, the government declared the end of the emergency phase and announced the transition to recovery, in which UNDP is supporting with US$1 million. “Now is the moment to build climate resilience and translate our words and promises into actions, and recognize that we are dealing with a ‘new normal’ and we cannot wait,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
Harnessing digital technology
One of the most critical steps following a disaster is to make available reliable estimates based on data collection and analysis so that recovery decisions can be targeted and effective. For this purpose, and building upon the experience of multiple disaster responses, UNDP has developed a Household and Building Damage Assessment (HBDA) Toolkit.
It supports authorities in crisis-affected countries to assess the damage and impact on residential and non-residential infrastructure and collect georeferenced information. The data is analyzed and visualized by Microsoft Power BI, a user-friendly intelligence platform. This allows governments to produce hundreds of reports with just a few clicks assisting them in prioritizing faster recovery, monitoring, policy-making, and disaster preparedness.
In the Bahamas, in order to ensure quality data collection, a joint team of UNDP staff and Engineers Without Borders trained more than 20 government personnel on how to use the HBDA tool. Together with the government the teams have assessed more than 3,500 houses and public infrastructure.
“In the past, data collection was a tedious process; information was collected on paper and then transferred to Excel. Now, this innovative way of data collection produces real-time interactive reports for rapid assessments,” said Gayle Outten-Moncur, Manager of NEMA’s National Emergency Operations Centre in a press release from the Government of the Bahamas.
A priority region
Crisis prevention and recovery are key pillars of UNDP’s support for governments and communities. With high exposure to natural disasters, the Caribbean is a priority region that warrants support to local, national and regional actions to significantly enhance resilience.
In the Bahamas this also includes working under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Works and the Ministry of Environment to remove debris. In partnership with UNICEF, UNDP will clear several schools and ensure emergency employment to households on the affected islands. An environmentally friendly and sustainable approach will be used, including reuse and recycling of material where possible.
The national actions include support to recovery planning processes, encouraging a participatory approach in which affected communities will contribute to the recovery process, particularly women and persons with disabilities.
Regionally, UNDP is building partnerships with the Caribbean Community or CARICOM and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency to shape a Caribbean Resilient Recovery Facility to provide ongoing advocacy and recovery support for all islands.
Long term recovery
UNDP’s work draws on tools and models tested in Hurricanes Irma and Maria, with emphasis on recovery and building back better—pillars of reducing future risk of disasters upheld by Priority Four of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
UNDP will continue to work with government and partners to move forward and help address the aftermath of the crisis, to help people rebuild homes and restore livelihoods while providing institutional support to help strengthen the national government’s capacity to lead a consolidated and coordinated recovery.