December 30, 2015
Two months after Hurricane Joaquin ravaged seven islands in the southern Bahamas with record rainfall and howling winds, closing businesses and schools and leaving many with little more than the clothes on their back, Rebuild Bahamas announced today it is ready to launch funds and volunteers into the reopening of commerce, aiding schools and providing clean drinking water.
"The emergency relief efforts of government and other groups was amazing," said Edison Sumner, CEO, Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers' Confederation (BCCEC). "Because they met many of the immediate needs - water, food, staples, clothing, bedding - we were able to focus on a thorough needs assessment and framework for medium-term and long-term solutions. So with the teams from the Chamber and Rotary, we have had persons in the islands along with adjustors assessing conditions and helping us map out a detailed list of needs as they pertain to business, education and the provision of clean, potable drinking water. Rebuild Bahamas is now ready to go to work."
As Sumner spoke, funds continued to come in to the private sector partnership between the Rotary Clubs of The Bahamas - which are well-known for hurricane relief regionally - and the Chamber, which serves as the voice and conscience of business.
"Thanks to the telethon that was aired live on ZNS, Cable and Jones on October 27, all without charge or commercials, and to major donations like that from the Moore Bahamas Foundation which gave $120,000, we are now at $861,101.83," said Sumner.
That amount includes a $250,000 pledge from the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund. RBC has agreed to partner in assisting qualified small- to medium-sized businesses with revolving loans to get back on their feet and functioning. According to Rotary District Governor Felix Stubbs, helping businesses rebuild and reopen is essential.
"We have to assist in the best way possible to get commerce going again in these islands where people who want to repair their roof, or rebuild their home, or buy school supplies too often find now they have to go to Nassau or somewhere else just for materials," said Stubbs. "If there is no money circulating in the economy, the hurricane will be just the beginning of a gathering storm of other problems including unemployment and obligations that can't be met, so it is absolutely critical for us to do all we can to see that commerce is restored."
When Rebuild teams visited the impacted islands, they looked at and reported on retail operations, fishing vessels, service (gas) stations, fishing lodges, handicraft artisans, inland and overseas transportation. Today they estimate losses from the commercial fishing industry in Long Island alone to exceed $1.2 million. In Acklins, a total of 25 businesses reported damages totaling an estimated $937,145, ranging from structural repairs and equipment and furniture replacement to restocking of inventory, much of which was washed away or flooded beyond salvaging.
The Chamber's small- to medium-sized enterprises (SME) help desk is also being called on to play a role in the restoration of commerce.
"Though we attempted to do a thorough needs assessment going door to door for those places that even had a door or neighbor to neighbor where we could, we know we could not reach everyone. Many had no place to stay after the storm so they fled to Nassau or elsewhere to stay with family in other islands. So along with our analysis, we are inviting business owners to complete an application form to qualify for funds. The form will be available online as of December 27th and we will review each case individually so if you fall into the category of needing assistance, please go online to thebahamaschamber.com and click SME Hurricane Joaquin application."
Application forms will also be made available at the family island administrators' offices, the venture fund and from the National Emergency Management Agency office. For those businesses already identified, funds have been earmarked for assistance.
"It was determined that 50 percent of the proceeds raised from the telethon will go directly to support small businesses that have been identified as a part of the Rebuild Bahamas initiative," Sumner explained. "These funds will be made available through grants, revolving loans and direct contributions, depending on the needs and requirements of the business. The idea behind the loans is for those businesses that only need short-term bridge financing to access those funds through a loan facility, and that upon repayment of the loan, those funds can then be made available to others needing similar assistance in the future.
"The SME desk will also help with ongoing monitoring and evaluation of those businesses to ensure that they stay focused in meeting their projections and become profitable," he continued. "Chances are, they never had that kind of dedicated professional oversight or assistance before and this could open a new chapter in their business lives, making them more profitable or more competitive."
Once cash registers are ringing and business activity shows signs of revitalization, Rebuild Bahamas will turn its attention to resupplying schools and creating permanent, eco-friendly solutions for clean drinking water. A parallel effort with water is already taking place on Crooked Island, thanks in large part to another generous donation from the Moore Bahamas Foundation, which is funding the rebuilding of a community center with a solar powered reverse osmosis system to convert salt water from the sea to potable water. More than 200 persons donated time and talent to the telethon that kicked off the Rebuild Bahamas campaign and the partnership between Rotary and the Chamber is expected to last for years.
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