The UWI Vice-Chancellor Leads Mission to The Bahamas

Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies (The UWI), Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, was visibly moved as he opened his Forum on the Hurricane Response in The Bahamas on Friday, September 13, 2019. Calling it a ‘zone of vulnerability and devastation’, he addressed the enormity of devastation, the magnitude of effort required to rebuild, and The UWI’s role in the context of post-colonial vulnerability.

The Vice-Chancellor and UWI teams had been and are in the affected islands working on the ground and with Government officials in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian which clocked winds of 220 and battered the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama for almost two days. Lecturers and graduate students of The UWI School of Clinical Medicine and Research have been providing family medicine to triage, treat, contain, and prevent diseases. They have also been manning the eight shelters which average 1500 evacuees each. Vice-Chancellor Beckles noted that the presence of The UWI on the ground so swiftly is indication of the institution’s agility and responsiveness.

Mr. Jeremy Collymore, Resilience Consultant/Advisor attached to the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, noted that Hurricane Dorian affected the north-western Bahamas islands for an approximate 68 hours, with the southern eye-wall planted over Grand Bahama for about 30 hours. “While,” he said, “the major population and resource centre were minimally impacted; the impacted areas were major contributors to the national economy.” He pointed out that detailed socio-economic impacts were in the embryonic stage of determination.

“During this recovery period,” Dr. Barbara Carby, Head of The UWI Disaster Risk Reduction Centre reflected in her presentation, “The UWI is ideally positioned to advocate for as well as action risk reduction and resilience building in support of longer term Sustainable Development goals.”

The UWI Mona Guild President, Christina Williams was clear in her call to action. “In 2018, on a Friday like this, a young 15-year-old by the name of Greta Thunberg started a strike in her country. It erupted in thousands of students across the world striking on a Friday and they termed it Fridays for Future – A stand against the climate crisis and the disregard by politicians and world leaders to climate change.” “As young people,” she said, “we need to also ensure that our countries are doing as much as they can to always have disaster reduction policies and also disaster reduction principles in place before there is actually a crisis to work on.”

The Vice-Chancellor-led team on mission in The Bahamas met with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and his ministerial colleagues as well as the Recovery Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office. The UWI has also been liaising with the Regional Response Mechanism, the UNDP, and other international agencies. The UWI’s response is focused on multiple areas, including psycho-social support, damage and impact assessment, hazard resistance and resilience, resettlement and relocation, coastal engineering, and environmental management.

Vice-Chancellor Beckles, Mr. Jeremy Collymore, along with Dr. Robin Roberts, Director, and Faculty Member, Dr. Catherine Conliffe of The UWI School of Clinical Medicine and Research, Dr. Michelle McLeod, of The UWI Centre for Hospitality and Tourism Management, and Dr. Cheryl McDonald-Sloley, Deputy Director Commercial Services Department, The UWI Open Campus all joined the Vice-Chancellor’s Forum by video conference from The Bahamas. The Forum was moderated at The UWI’s Regional Headquarters by Ambassador Dr. Richard Bernal, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Practice, Global Affairs. It was attended by staff, students, including a Bahamian student association contingent, partners and friends.