Nassau’s Ark

What Happens When The Luck Runs Out?

Today, June 1st, is supposed to mark the official opening of Hurricane Season. If the last couple of seasons have taught us anything at all, it’s the fact that mother nature doesn’t really care about our timelines and climate change is doing its part to speed those timelines up anyway. 

Sad to say, it took a little bit of rain, poor property maintenance, and a lot of negligent city planning to remind some residents of New Providence that hurricane season does indeed exist. 

Enter the past three weeks of flooding. 

I always viewed Nassuvians as a bit apathetic towards all things related to the family islands. Whether that’s with healthcare, infrastructure or education, the things that “out islanders” need have generally taken a backseat in conversations. Family Island needs almost always have to align with the needs of the capital, or else the advocacy that is desperately needed will never happen. The saying “there’s strength in numbers” may seem like a cliche, but it’s firmly rooted in truth. 

With Nassau finally and seemingly on the same page as the rest of the country in terms of climate-resilient infrastructure and hopefully climate advocacy, I was hoping that this would be the moment that we can look at the same problem and maybe fix it. The thing about the after-effects of glaring problems though, is that we often don’t know what those problems even are. A quick conversation with Coastal and Civil Engineer Carlos Palacious let me know just how much I actually didn’t know, and he set me on the right path of what we’re currently looking at in New Providence. 

     “I don’t think Nassuvians are apathetic towards what’s going on in the outer islands. If you think about it, many Nassuvians have family members in islands heavily affected by storms.”  Carlos graciously speaks to me as he’s weaving through Nassau traffic that terrifies me more than anything in life. 

“We can go through the last five or six major storms. Almost all of those flooding events, for the most part, were coastal-related flooding.” It’s almost like he can hear the vapid, questioning blinking of my eyes over the phone and so he continues, “So what that means is, you get 12 to 16 inches of rain with the storm, yes, but you really get ten, fifteen, and in Dorian’s case, twenty feet of storm surge – and that is a whole different level of beast than what’s called Inland Flooding, or flooding that’s from rain. That’s what we’re getting in Nassau.” 

Carlos lets me know that what Nassau is facing at the moment is as a result of a drainage infrastructure that’s just not sufficient. He also goes on to tell me of stories where various contractors would literally wash excess concrete into storm drains, effectively blocking systems put in place that can prevent the Noah’s Ark scenario we’ve been voyeuring these past few weeks. 

“We have a very, very disrespectful approach to the environment,” he lets me know. “People have to care. It’s preparing the next generation and it’ll be the thing that’ll save our country.”

He’s not wrong. In many areas in Nassau, we’re not just building on wetlands. We’re building on wetlands with poorly elevated homes that will never stand a chance when the rain eventually falls. Are we really doing all that we can to safeguard our future against things we can actually control?

This information starts to piece together in my mind and paints a very clear picture of a nation where none of us actually care about our environment. So here we are, on the one hand faced with storms that are becoming stronger as a result of climate change, and on the other hand? We’re facing real-life consequences as a result of our own immediate lack of care for our land. A terrifyingly sad duality. 

I almost fell down a rabbit hole of this piece becoming yet another almost divisive debate of “they don’t care about the problem, until it’s theirs.” And to be honest, I still kind of believe that. A scenario was given where it was proven that Nassau cannot withstand the effects of a storm higher than a Category 3 while also simultaneously letting us know that we’ve been woefully neglecting infrastructure like storm drains. Instead of moving to properly prepare for a storm though, we end up hearing verbiage like “could you imagine if -insert the most recent and terrifying storm here- hits us?”  The issue with framing anything this way is that we end up lulling ourselves into a false sense of security where, days of specific inland flooding aside, Nassuvians can truly forget that it’s not a matter of “if” a storm is going to approach, it’s a matter of when. Removing yourself from this narrative can not only be foolhardy, but in my humble opinion, dangerous. 

So, here’s what I learnt this week: Nassau suffers from inland flooding that will only get worse if we don’t do our due diligence. “The simplest thing in the entire world we can do is clean our storm drains. Nationally.” Carlos is extremely adamant on this point, and if movies like 2012, Greenland, The Day After Tomorrow, Geostorm – literally ANY natural disaster movie has taught me anything? It’s that you listen to the experts in the room. 

My sleuthing on social media has also let me know that many of us are underprepared for a hurricane season that decided to show up to the party a lot earlier than we expected. Carlos begs all of us to do one simple yet essential thing now: “Please have a plan”. Everyone, Nassuvians included, need to be prepared for Hurricane Season. I decided to make life a little easier for you by adding NEMA’s Hurricane preparedness checklist below.