Hurricane Dorian charged through the northern Bahamas this week, displacing families and reducing homes to splinters.
The Category 5 storm claimed the lives of at least 30 people, but officials warn that number could grow “significantly higher” as emergency crews fan out across flooded areas. Many more have been reported missing.
In the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, the situation is dire.
Aid poured into the badly hit regions this week, including crews from the U.S. Coast Guard, the British Royal Navy, the United Nations and the Red Cross.
“Access is finally opening up and we are finally starting to receive aerial assessments that indicate that as many as 99 per cent of people who live on these islands may have been affected,” said Norah Eggleston, the manager of the Canadian Red Cross’ international operations team.
“We’re seeing images of completely flooded neighbourhoods, of houses and buildings missing roofs and walls, of boats overturned. We’re hearing that the massive flooding has contaminated wells and that people are running out of drinking water and that infrastructure has been severely damaged.”
The UN has estimated that more than 76,000 people need humanitarian aid, including food and clean drinking water.
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When disaster strikes, the impulse is to send items, said UNICEF Canada CEO David Morley, but that isn’t always the best route.
Having funds to provide on-the-ground support is more efficient than sending physical items, he said.
Certain materials – like canned goods and tents – typically come with transportation costs and customs fees, which can tie up volunteers with logistics rather than providing aid.
“Too often you see people who want to help sending things that are good in Canada but may not be the right thing for the country where they’re going to,” Morley told Global News.
“Sending things is not as good, but if people want to help, all reputable agencies are asking for financial support so that our teams can get there and provide the help and technical know-how that they need.”
Miami has collected roughly 70 pallets of sanitizers, blankets, clothes and other necessities to ship to the victims of the monster storm. As the storm surge has rendered some airports inoperable, the Florida city will transport the aid on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship.
A drop-off point for goods has been set up on the islands by the Bahamas Consulate General Miami.
But cash is still king in these situations, echoed Eggleston.
“The best way to support those affected is by making a financial contribution,” she said.
What is Canada doing?
Shelter, food and clean water are key issues for survivors in Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Volunteers and staff from the Red Cross are working to distribute meals before they switch focus and distribute cash grants.
The Canadian division of the aid organization is “ready to respond with personnel and relief items,” according to Eggelston.
“We have a Canadian aid worker going to the Bahamas to support the water and sanitation efforts. We are also planning to send relief items, including blankets, to help people start cleaning up,” she said.
Morley emphasized the need for clean drinking water. He said without sanitation, there is a risk of waterborne diseases.
“We’re hearing a lot of the water has been contaminated by those incredible surges that we’ve all seen,” he said.
“In a poorer country, we try to get vaccination programs happening quickly. It’s a way to prevent the spread of disease because, in the first few days, that’s what you’re most worried about.”
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Toronto-based non-profit GlobalMedic travelled to the Bahamas on Wednesday with two water purification units and more than 1,000 family emergency kits filled with tools and hygiene products.
The registered charity told Global News they expect to be on the ground for as long as necessary, likely lasting weeks or months.
Aid is also coming from the Canadian government.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will offer $500,000 in humanitarian assistance and support for the Bahamas. Trudeau has said his government will keep in close contact with the storm-stricken islands as recovery efforts continue and damage assessments develop.
How you can help
Canadians who want to support the Red Cross’ response to the storm can donate to the Hurricane Dorian Appeal. The money raised through this fund will help provide necessary aid and fund recovery efforts on the ground.
UNICEF Canada is another option.
The organization is asking for financial donations to help provide clean water, medical aid, support services for children and supplies to prevent disease outbreaks. You can donate to their Hurricane Dorian Relief Bahamas fund here.
“We’ve got a team that’s going there now to look at the humanitarian needs specifically for children,” Morley said.
“We at UNICEF respond to an emergency every day. It’s just not all of them are as bad as what the people in the Bahamas have suffered this week.”
Travellers might be inclined to cancel their trip to the Caribbean, but there are growing calls for tourists to think twice.
Abaco and Grand Bahama aren’t the only islands in the Bahamas — there are hundreds more that were virtually untouched by the storm. While there are some travel advisories in place, hotels in vacation destination hot-spots like Nassau and Paradise Island are still operating and the islands could use the tourism dollars.
There’s one other thing Morley said Canadians can do to help – keep raising awareness about the need for help in the Bahamas.
“Spread this knowledge through social media,” he said.
“Canadians are a generous people and Canadians want to be generous. It’s great to be a part of a country that wants to help others so much. It’s our spirit of generosity that makes me proud to be a Canadian, and I think we can all be proud of that.”
— With files from Global News’ Sharemeen Somani, The Associated Press and Reuters