Unsafe tap water, destroyed homes, and aid groups everywhere: Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on the Bahamas, forcing families to wait days in unsafe conditions for rescue. Livelihoods have been destroyed, pushing once self-sufficient Bahamians to rely on others to survive. Tents are a common sight on the Grand Bahama island, with around thirty thousand people left homeless or jobless.
Dorian, the Category 5 storm that pelted the Bahamas in late August, was the largest storm to ever hit the region. With at least sixty-one deaths and six hundred people missing, infrastructure took a large hit and the aftermath continues to impact the Bahamas. Accompanying the massive damage and destruction came economic challenges of rebuilding the country, and heightened ethnic tensions that have sparked fears of deportation of many Haitian residents. These issues will impede the Bahamas’ efforts at rehabilitation, meaning a full recovery could take years.
Lasting Economic Damages
Hurricane Dorian caused about $7 billion in damages. Though the Bahamas is a high-income country, the aftermath will certainly cause lasting damage to their economy. One of the country’s largest industries is tourism, and many tourist destinations were damaged. This, therefore, poses a substantial threat to the country’s economy. Natural disasters are one of the leading causes of economic losses in relation to tourism. From fears of encountering the next disaster to concerns of appearing insensitive by traveling there, many tourists have concerns that have already affected the tourism industry.
Despite these concerns, many resorts and other tourist destinations opened soon after the storm had passed. Because tourism is the primary or only source of income for many Bahamian businesses, tourist revenue is necessary to rebuild. Since the storm, the Bahamas has also launched an extensive tourism campaign, which includes advertisements of the fourteen islands that were not affected by the hurricane. Tourism season begins around the end of November and continues through early January. While the revenue is yet to be calculated, it is likely that the tourism industry will take several seasons to recover. The country will need a large increase in tourists to compensate for what Hurricane Dorian stole: 20 percent of tourism revenue.
The storm has also ruined homes and public spaces. This may prevent people from buying homes out of fear of another destructive storm, hurting the country’s real estate industry. Immediately following the storm, prices of damaged houses dropped. Real estate investors have attempted to profit off the situation by looking to buy damaged houses. By buying damaged homes from those who need the money immediately, the investors can purchase houses for lower prices than they are worth. This allows them to sell the land at a later date for a higher price.
To begin rebuilding their lives, many Bahamians will have to sell houses or other forms of real estate for whatever price they can get, rather than waiting for a higher price. It is likely that the Bahamians forced to sell their homes might not want to repurchase in the same area, forcing them to look elsewhere or rely on government-sponsored programs while they try to find a new place to live. Ultimately, this will likely lead to a temporary economic decline which, when combined with the decrease in resources from tourism, is a hard hit to the Bahamian infrastructure that will take time to combat.
Increased Ethnic Tensions
In addition to the economic hit, Hurricane Dorian exacerbated long-standing ethnic tensions. These tensions have existed for decades between native-born Bahamians and Haitians, many of whom migrated to the Bahamas illegally. Haitian migrants tend to be discriminated against in Bahamian culture and are often stereotyped as instigators of crime and other chaos. Since Dorian, the government has cracked down on undocumented Haitian immigrants. Haiti, however, was also hit by Dorian, and many of the recent migrants to the Bahamas are Haitians evacuating their home country. However, they are still being deported in higher numbers than before the Hurricane.
While these issues were present before the storm, Hurricane Dorian exacerbated them. Thousands of Haitians who live in the country were made homeless by the storm, forcing them to rely on government-provided shelters. This made it easier for government officials to identify them. The Bahamian government has since deported over 340 Haitian migrants to Haiti, allegedly “without following protocol” and despite many parts of Haiti being unfit to live in. This government effort has caused increasing fears among the Haitians still reeling from the deaths and devastation caused by Dorian. As the government continues to deport these migrants, the tensions between this group and the native-born Bahamians will only rise, increasing fear in an already damaged country.
As the government increases efforts to deport Haitians, money is also being siphoned away from rebuilding efforts. The costs to search for, hold, and feed any migrants identified, as well as to pay for transportation off the island, are a strain on rebuilding resources; in the United States, it was found that it costs around $10,000 to deport a single person. While the cost would certainly vary in the Bahamas, to deport its forty-four thousand Haitian residents will hurt the ongoing efforts to rebuild.
In the end, this historically devastating storm will make it very difficult for the Bahamas to restore itself to its pre-storm state. From ethnic divides to economic struggles, the mental and physical anguish Hurricane Dorian has caused will take the nation a long time to overcome.
The photo featured in this article is in the public domain and is not subject to copyright law. The original photo was taken by U.S. Coast Guard District 7 and can be found here.