Following the “terrible devastation” of parts of the northern Bahamas in the Caribbean caused by Hurricane Dorian, Secretary-General António Guterres has said he “remains deeply concerned” for those thousands impacted by the giant storm. The UN's relief chief, Mark Lowcock, travelled to the island nation on Wednesday, to meet Government leaders and help expedite a life-saving aid operation.
The UN chief said in a statement that he was especially concerned “for the tens of thousands of people affected in Grand Bahamas and Abaco. He offers his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the disaster and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.”
Mr. Guterres said the UN was supporting the ongoing Government-led rescue and relief efforts and was contributing assessment teams to join others deploying to the affected areas.
“People who have lost everything urgently need shelter, safe drinking water, food and medicine” he added, calling on donors to provide emergency funding for the humanitarian response and recovery efforts, “as soon as the requirements are known.”
Rescuers have now begun to reach the worst hit parts of the archipelago, which consists of around 700 islands stretching across more than 100,000 square miles of ocean, after Dorian made landfall at the weekend as a Category 5 hurricane.
Aerial images show a major level of destruction on the ground, and the official death toll of eight, is expected to rise. The hurricane remained over the north-west Bahamas for one and a half days, before weakening and moving away towards the coast of Florida. As of Wednesday afternoon local time, it was moving north bearing towards Georgia and the Carolinas.
Unprecedented disaster 'of epic proportions' says Lowcock on the ground
The UN relief chief who heads up the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Mark Lowcock, travelled to the Bahamas on Wednesday to help assess what is needed from the international community, and express the United Nations’ solidarity with the people and national leaders.
Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, down the line from the Bahamas late on Wednesday, Mr. Lowcock said that the damage was on an “enormous scale” causing “vast devastation” and leaving around 70,000 in need of life-saving aid on the two islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco.
He said access was “still very limited” to the islands for the rescue and humanitarian relief effort, and noted the scale of the disaster was unprecedented, for what is, essentially, a prosperous country.
Listen below to our exclusive UN News interview with Mr. Lowcock speaking via Skype from the Bahamas.
Much of the response was being paid for by the Government, he said, but given the scale of the disaster, it was appropriate for the international community to respond to the country’s request for assistance.
Following further aerial surveys tomorrow and more data collection “hopefully, very soon after that, we will be able to get teams on the ground” he said, adding that he had told the Bahamian Prime Minister that he would release $1 million “immediately, from the Central Emergency Response Fund, to deal with exactly the set of priorities that he has identified”.
“It’s very unusual, for 20 per cent of the population of a country to be very severely impacted by a single event like this…The Bahamas has certainly never seen anything on the scale”, he said, adding that the most comparable recent disaster was the near total destruction of the Caribbean island of Dominica, by Hurricane Maria, in 2017.
“It’s true that the numbers of people, given the overall scale of emergencies we deal with around the world is not as big as in some other places, but a disaster of such epic proportions on a single country in a single incident is very very unsual.”