Story and photos by Water Mission www.watermission.org
Just seven months since Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, the islands stand against yet another crisis: the threat of COVID-19. But today, on World Health Day, they also stand resilient, equipped with necessities, such as safe water, that will help them weather this storm.
To date, the Bahamas has reported 29 cases and five deaths from the new coronavirus. Shipments of consumables and supplies are being delayed. Thankfully, because of Water Mission’s faithful supporters, the islands can keep recovering from Hurricane Dorian and protect themselves from the global health crisis.
Like other leaders around the world, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis recently announced a shelter-in-place order in response to the coronavirus outbreak. He also called for prayers for those on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19, including pharmacists, caregivers, store clerks, and utility workers. He appealed to the country not to lose hope.
In proposing physical distancing and ordering total restriction on social activities, he said, “Hope has not been canceled… nor have resilience and courage and the spirit of the Bahamian people.”
Resilience is a word with which the people of the Bahamas have become well acquainted. In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian devastated the Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, leaving a trail of destruction and economic uncertainty.
A 20-foot storm surge, fueled by sustained 185 mph winds, caused flooding that resulted in saltwater contamination of most groundwater sources. The ensuing lack of safe water on the islands could have hampered immediate recovery. However, our disaster response team quickly mobilized and delivered a unique solution: reverse osmosis (RO), a specialized water purification process that filters saltwater before it is treated. The RO systems, designed by Parker Hannifin, that we installed produced enough safe water for thousands of people daily. To date, Water Mission has provided the Bahamas with more than 1 million gallons of safe water.
The RO systems in McLeans Town, Pelican Point, Treasure Cay, Man-O-War Cay, and Green Turtle Cay have become permanent structures. These systems are crucial to building the islands’ resilience with infrastructure that will protect and serve the people of the Bahamas during and after a future emergency: a hurricane or a pandemic such as COVID-19.
Since September, Water Mission has been working with like-minded relief organizations and the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) to provide safe water, storage and distribution solutions, and on-the-ground engineering and technical expertise. We have also been establishing structures and schemes that are more resilient, sustainable, and economical for joint projects such as Abaco Sunny Waters, the first-ever solar-powered municipal water system in Marsh Harbour. Abaco Sunny Waters is a cooperative initiative between Water Mission, WSC, UNICEF, and The Goodness Tour, and is aimed at providing continuous water flow for the community.
“When we responded to the need for safe water in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian, we did so with an eye toward investing in long-term solutions that would serve the people in the event of future emergencies,” said Mark Baker, Water Mission’s director of disaster response. He and his team have carried out a disaster response strategy that addresses both the emergent and long-term needs of communities recovering from disasters.
Today, Water Mission staff members remain on assignment in the Bahamas, long after Hurricane Dorian has cycled out of the news. Since disaster responders are considered as essential workers and are therefore permitted to move about and work, the team has:
- installed handwashing stations at water distribution points across Abaco, helping to facilitate COVID-19 prevention measures recommended by the World Health Organization,
- continued to provide technical guidance for uninterrupted safe water production, and
- made plans to replicate the Abaco Sunny Waters project.
On World Health Day, amid the many uncertainties surrounding the threat of COVID-19, we celebrate the fact that the people of the Bahamas are not without the safe water they need for drinking, cleaning, and, most imperative right now, handwashing.
“We had no idea that the next threat would come in the form of a virus as opposed to a storm. Regardless, the multiple RO systems we installed continue to reliably perform, providing safe water for the people of the Bahamas in another emergency situation,” said Mark, explaining the importance of reliable, long-term disaster responses that build up the resilience of entire communities.
With solutions in place, the people of the Bahamas are equipped to stand against future threats: a hurricane, a virus, or an economic crisis – reasons to celebrate on World Health Day.