Updated: September 9, 2019
Hurricane Dorian was the strongest storm on record to ever hit the Bahamas — and tied for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to make landfall. Then, it stalled.
For nearly 40 hours, the hurricane churned over Grand Bahama — one of the most populated of the Carribean nation’s islands — causing massive destruction and displacement. With sustained 185 mile-per-hour winds and storm surges as high as 23 feet, the storm battered the coast in a powerful and painfully slow pattern that astounded some meteorologists.
— CNN (@CNN) September 4, 2019
So far, at least 43 deaths have been reported and more than 2,000 people are still missing. The storm leveled much of the infrastructure on Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands, leaving tens of thousands of survivors without food, water, power, shelter, or medicine.
A Massive Relief Effort
Right now the United Nations and other humanitarian partners — including the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, the British Royal Navy, and the Red Cross, among others — are working with the government of the Bahamas on an international rescue-and-relief mission to reach people in need.
Yesterday, Mark Lowcock, the UN’s head for emergency relief, visited the Bahamas and met with the nation’s prime minister to assess the hurricane’s damage and discuss response plans. (Listen to his firsthand account on UN News).
UN agencies, including the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), are conducting a disaster assessment. WFP is shipping eight tons of ready-to-eat meals for survivors in need. Some 14,700 meals have already been distributed. The agency is also working to establish a logistics and telecommunications hub in the Bahamas to coordinate recovery efforts by airlifting generators, storage units, and temporary offices, in addition to providing satellite equipment. IOM is also providing 1,000 tarpaulins to replace roofs stripped from homes on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands while UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education to establish child-friendly spaces to help young survivors recover.
Early estimates suggest as much as 20% of the country’s population — roughly 70,000 people — require immediate assistance. The UN has already released $1 million in emergency funding from its Central Emergency Response Fund.
A New Normal
While no single weather event can be attributed directly to climate change, scientists are warning that warmer oceans will only make hurricanes stronger and more destructive.
This was the case with Hurricane Dorian, which gathered its record-breaking strength over ocean currents that were about one degree Celsius warmer than normal, according to the Washington Post. In fact, “Dorian’s appearance made 2019 the fourth straight year in which a Category 5 hurricane formed in the Atlantic — the longest such streak on record,” the paper reported.
Just last month, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report on global warming’s effects on land, which found that small island nations like the Bahamas are — and will continue to be — vulnerable to the devastating impacts caused by stronger cyclones.
Protecting The Planet
UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling on world leaders to step up their commitments to the Paris Agreement, the landmark deal adopted at the UN to curb global greenhouse gas emissions. This month during the UN General Assembly, he will host the Climate Action Summit to secure ambitious pledges to help keep the planet’s atmosphere from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius — a temperature that scientists predict could cause catastrophic and irreversible damage to the planet.
This month, the UN will also host its first Youth Climate Summit at its headquarters in New York uniting more than 600 young people from around the globe who are committed to tackling climate change in their own communities.
While the death toll from Hurricane Dorian mounts and other extreme weather events — from heat waves to flooding — continue to devastate communities across the globe, it’s clear that climate change is already wreaking havoc.
This crisis can no longer be ignored.
As the Secretary-General has declared, it’s time to step up and support families that are already facing its consequences.