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Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas

Volume 664: debated on Monday 9 September 2019

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, my thoughts are with all those who have lost their lives, their homes or have been injured in the Bahamas and elsewhere. Hurricane Dorian has caused untold damage to the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama in particular. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) estimates that 15,000 people remain in need of urgent humanitarian assistance—a number which is less than was initially feared. The Government of the Bahamas have officially confirmed 43 deaths.

To help the people and the Government of the Bahamas, the UK Government have initially committed up to £1.5 million towards the immediate humanitarian response. This funding has been provided by the conflict, stability and security fund (CSSF), for the delivery of critical aid supplies by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Mounts Bay, and to support CDEMA in its work to co-ordinate the international response. RFA Mounts Bay was pre-positioned in the region ahead of hurricane season and is carrying specialist equipment and vital aid supplies, including hygiene kits, emergency shelter kits and water. The Royal Navy Wildcat helicopter on board is airlifting supplies, conducting reconnaissance flights and assessing damage. The UK was amongst the first to provide support and we are now glad to see that the international response is ramping up.

We have deployed a team to the Bahamas to help co-ordinate the emergency response and ensure aid gets where it is needed. We have also deployed additional consular staff to Nassau. They, alongside Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff in London, are working with the Bahamian authorities and international partners to provide support to British nationals, and to scope what, if any, further assistance may be needed.

The number of British nationals in need of support is anticipated to be low. It is low season for tourists and we estimate there were 200-400 British nationals in the worst affected areas. As the only European mission in the Bahamas, the British High Commission in Nassau has legal responsibility to provide consular support for EU nationals. The FCO has been regularly updating its travel advice.

The British High Commission in Nassau is working closely with the United Nations, the United States, Canada, NGOs and other partners in the region to support the Bahamian Government. Early support was also provided by the Governor’s Office in Turks and Caicos, which is a British overseas territory. The Cayman Islands have also sent a helicopter (jointly funded with the FCO).

The FCO, Department for International Development, Ministry of Defence, and other Departments and agencies have worked closely to prepare for the hurricane season. Since 2017, the Met Office has developed improved advisory arrangements for the Caribbean, and we have been working closely to gain a better understanding of the technical data as tropical storms develop. A team of experts from across Government was tracking this storm from its development as a tropical depression over the August bank holiday. This meant the UK Government were well prepared to respond quickly in support of local authorities with our resources pre-deployed in the region. We will continue to assess the situation.

Any MPs who may be concerned about the welfare of particular UK nationals in the Bahamas can contact the MPs’ hotline, details of which have been emailed to all MPs’ offices.