Bahamas Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield. (CMC)
UNITED NATIONS – The Bahamas says it is deeply concerned about the dangers of environmental degradation and climate change, stating that they threaten the region’s very survivability.
“With what we have witnessed just recently with the passage of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and now Maria, I cannot underscore sufficiently the importance the Bahamas attaches to combating climate change, and the preservation and protection of the environment,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield told the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly Debate on Saturday.
“Even while these hurricanes were occurring, there have been earthquakes in Mexico, resulting in further tragic loss of life and destruction,” he added. “Climate change is global. We have expressed before, and today we reiterate, our thoughts and prayers to all adversely impacted by these devastating events.”
Henfield emphasised that it was the third time in three years that the Bahamas has been hit by a major hurricane, adding that “Maria is still churning in our territory”.
“There are two more months before the end of the hurricane season, and we can only pray that we will be spared from further destruction and loss,” he said, pointing out that Hurricane Irma changed course and did not directly hit the entire Bahamian archipelago, thus minimising the impact the country’s tourism industry.
But, Henfield stated that the country was not entirely spared.
He said the Bahamian southern islands experienced serious damage and Ragged Island was totally devastated and is now uninhabitable.
Additionally, he said tornadoes inflicted considerable damage on the northern islands of Bimini and Grand Bahama.
The Foreign Affairs Minister said the Bahamas is grateful to international partners who provided immediate support after the passage of Hurricane Irma, and now continue to stand by its side as it begins “the painful and burdensome process of restoration and rebuilding”.
Henfield commended the UN Secretary-General for convening the recent High-Level Meeting “to allow those of us impacted to bring focus on these events to other potential partners”.
He noted that one of the countries immediately affected by Hurricane Irma was Cuba, “which, as on previous occasions, caused this massive hurricane to lose some of its energy and probably led to a lesser impact on our neighbour, the United States of America”.
Henfield lamented that while all developing countries affected have been placed on a short-list for assistance to shore up their internal conditions towards recovery, Cuba does not enjoy this capacity to the fullest.
He also said the Bahamas joins other nations in calling for the Congress of the United States to reconsider the legislative barriers to the biggest of the Caribbean islands “in order for it to develop to its fullest potential as a member of the international community”.
Henfield said it is the intention of the Bahamian Government, working with the private sector, to create out of the destruction of Ragged Island the first fully green island in the region, utilising renewable energy and smart technologies from solar energy to sustainable water purification systems to create a “more sustainable, resilient, island community”.
He said the implications for the existence of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), like the Bahamas, as they are confronted with global warming, rising sea levels, and more severe and frequent hurricanes and other extreme weather events, are “all too clear”.
“For the first time in its history, the Bahamas evacuated whole communities to safe quadrants ahead of Hurricane Irma. What’s next: wholesale evacuation of the entire Caribbean?” he asked, calling on the international community to recognise “the imperative of accelerating the efforts to deal urgently with the adverse impact of climate change and to do so in a coordinated way.
“Only then will we mitigate against these ferocious and frequent destructive weather events, which now potentially threatens to add to the world’s migration issues,” he added, stating that well over two decades ago, the Bahamian Government, recognising the very real threat posed to its very existence, upgraded its human capital capacity to address the unintended consequences of climate change, as well as its commitment to environmental conservation.
Through its many marine protected areas, Henfield told the Debate that the Bahamas is committed to the conservation of sustainable oceans, as well as through active involvement in initiatives such as 10X20, and participation in the consultative process of Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction.
In this context, the Foreign Affairs Minister said the Bahamas has presented its candidature once again for a seat on the Council of the International Maritime Organisation in Category “C”.
He said the continuing imperative for the Bahamas, as well as the rest of the Caribbean is the re-evaluation of the measurements used to determine economic well-being.
He noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its Policy Brief on “Vulnerability and Debt in Small States” recognised that “Many [SIDS] face an uncertain future.”
Henfield said the Bahamas continues to dispute the use of Per Capita Gross Domestic Product/Gross National Product (GDP/GNP) as an instrument to measure wealth and economic development, stating that “the use of this one-dimensional instrument prohibits countries that are most in need to receive development assistance or loans at concessional rates.
“It is time for us to replace that metric with a realistic measurement that takes into account the vulnerability and fragility of SIDS to exogenous shocks,” he said.
Notwithstanding the Bahamas’ best efforts at self-sufficiency, Henfield said exogenous shocks, in the form of reduced correspondent banking relationships, continue to create challenges for the region.
He said international banking institutions, fearing that they may be subject to fines and sanctions related to illicit activities of money laundering and terrorist financing, “have pulled out en masse”.
The Foreign Affairs Minister said citizens in the region depend on the services provided by these entities, adding that they have now become “severely disadvantaged as a result of the actions taken”.
“This threatens our ability to remain competitive as one of the leading international centres and hinders our efforts to expand our trading relationships,” he said, urging the international community to work together to find another way to deal with the issue “and allow input from those to be impacted by their decisions before moving the goalposts again”. (CMC)