Bahamian artist Dede Brown, photo from the artist's webpage
In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian became one of the most intense storms to ever hit the Atlantic and the greatest natural disaster to ever make landfall on the islands of The Bahamas causing approximately USD 3.4 billion in damages. While Dorian caused unprecedented environmental and infrastructure damages, it also exposed the structural weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the Bahamian society which created an imbroglio for governmental and non-governmental agencies striving to respond effectively and briskly following the storm.
With Dorian, The Bahamas gained its first recognized climate refugees as many were forced to leave the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama Island for places unknown as their homes, as they knew them, were destroyed. While Dorian left 74 officially dead, there were many more who lost everything in the aftermath.
In the case of climate-related disasters, or any type of disaster, there are multiple disasters and aftershocks that occur. The first is the actual event, or storm in this case, but the second, third, fourth, and beyond, are the disasters that represent the fallout after this initial event. For victims of a storm, the subsequent disasters are focused on loss of life, livelihood, and community.
Many governments in the region have been perceived as unable to effectively pivot towards the new reality of climate-related disasters. In recent years, this has been witnessed with particular poignance after hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through Barbuda, then in Puerto Rico as Irma and Maria laid waste to a critically vulnerable American protectorate, and finally, in The Bahamas after Dorian lashed Abaco and Grand Bahama Island. In The Bahamas, this liminal unreality is lived by the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, Haitians, who are often teetering on the verge of poverty. Many still languish in the unknowing of unnamed refugee status and the potential of a permanently altered future as the world moves on after each new and ever more menacing disaster. Few systems are in place to deliver aid, care and humanity to those most affected, as they battle to be recognized in an archaic, arthritic system that lumbers along unseeing and minimally changing. Through both visual and artistic accounts, we seek to tell the story of those most impacted by Dorian and those who are the face of climate migration in The Bahamas.
Stories from Hurricane Dorian
A self-described ‘climate convert’, Sienna Leis recently finished her Master in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. With a focus on crisis management, her work has evolved to focus on the COVID global pandemic in addition to addressing the climate crisis. In all aspects of her work, she is passionate about closing the gap between the extremes of society in order to ensure access to fundamental human rights.
"Refuge" exhibit capturing community responses to Hurricane Dorian by artists Dede and Kristin Brown at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. Photo Credit: Sienna Leis