Community Resiliency at Core of Bahamas' Hurricane Dorian Recovery Efforts

In 2019, Hurricane Dorian made landfall and was the strongest hurricane to hit the Northern Bahamas in modern records. The storm caused loss of life and devastated many parts of the island including roads, homes and medical clinics. This devastation to critical infrastructure strained response and recovery efforts to communities across the island. One of the core issues at the heart of this recovery is access to safe and sanitary water and healthcare.

To ensure that a number of these communities and healthcare facilities are better equipped in future disasters, the CDC Foundation and St. Bernard Project (SBP) partnered with Sextant Foundation, Water Mission and the Bahamas Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) to fortify five clinics and hospitals across the impacted islands with enhanced water treatment and storage capabilities. These improvements allow for better service of safe and sanitary water to patients, employees and communities.

Members of the St. Bernard Project, Water Mission and Bahamas Public Hospitals Authority

A focus on community resilience and not solely disaster relief is key, said SBP’s Executive Director Andy Stofleth. The organization was created to assist with recovery efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and in the decade-plus since has learned the importance of creating sustainable recovery in communities impacted by natural disasters.

“The traditional disaster relief model for a lot of groups tends to focus on immediate needs like water, temporary shelter, clothing or money, which is great and is often where the first money raised goes toward in the first weeks and months after a storm,” said Stofleth. “Those services, however, are temporary and don’t help communities fully bounce back after a natural disaster.”

With guidance from the Bahamas PHA, SBP and partners prioritized five strategic locations to receive upgrades to the current water infrastructure and storage. The CDC Foundation provided support to SBP USA to facilitate this work focused on strengthening the community resiliency after Hurricane Dorian. “

One thing that was really important for us as a Foundation was that this work would be able to withstand future emergencies,” said Melissa Bennett, MPH, senior emergency response officer for the CDC Foundation. “Strengthening the community’s infrastructure for immediate resilience and long-term sustainability when faced with the next hurricane, was the main focus of our efforts.”

From L to R: Jake Voss, engineer, Water Mission; Rodney Evans, PHA RO technician; Trey Russell, PHA RO technician; Andy Stofleth, Executive Director, SBP

The community resilience program with the Bahamas PHA was developed in two phases. Phase I addressed two of the largest facilities on Grand Bahama as well as the remote clinic on Green Turtle Cay. Phase II aimed to provide additional water capacity at two clinics in Northern Abaco at Coopers Town and Fox Town. The completed project will support more than 400 people daily at five government hospitals and clinics across three islands. These locations will also serve as community water points in future disasters and long-term maintenance of the systems will be owned and operated by trained government facilities workers employed by the Bahamas PHA.

For Stofleth with SBP, he hopes this project can serve as a case study for how to design systems that fulfill multiple needs. SBP will continue to use this project as a proof of concept to help influence and drive change in the international humanitarian aid sector.

“Our goal is to build a playbook so that it can be used, and potentially helpful, during the next national or international emergency,” said Stofleth. “We want to see how we can help all of the entities that typically come into an area after a natural disaster—NGO’s, federal agencies, etc.—and better leverage the skills and resources each has to offer to create long-term resiliency for the community.”

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