Nassau, Bahamas

14 September 2019

Secretary-General’s remarks at press encounter after his visit to Abaco Island

I just came back from Abaco. I must say was horrified. I've never seen such a level of systematic devastation. Hurricane Dorian has been classified as category five. I think it's category hell. But it was not powered by the devil. We have always had many hurricanes, but now they are more intense, and they are more frequent, and they are powered by climate change. And so it's very important that international community learns two things from the example of Abaco and Grand Bahama.
First, is that we need to stop climate change. We need to make sure that we reverse the present trend where climate change is running faster than what we are. And second, that countries like the Bahamas that do not contribute to climate change, but are in the first line of the devastating impacts of climate change, deserve international support, to be able to fully respond to the humanitarian emergency but also for the reconstruction and the building of resilience of their communities and their islands.
There has been a fantastic mobilization of the Bahamas government, the Bahamian people, of the international community, several countries, several non-governmental organizations, international agencies. They are doing with enormous generosity, a very important job in supporting the populations affected. But these will require a large investment and the Bahamas deserves the support of international community to be able to fully cope with this challenge and to be able to fully recover from it.
Question: I know the aftermath of other hurricanes, natural disasters, the region, the UNDP would provide temporary jobs ranging from a couple hundred couple thousands. Does the UN plan on providing any jobs?
Secretary-General: We have several UN agencies that are working in close cooperation with the government of the Bahamas. The international community is not here to replace the government it’s here to support the government. We have the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, we have the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and the International Organization of Migration, and one of the aspects in which we will be ready to cooperate with the government is in relation to shelter, which is probably the biggest emergency need in the short term. But obviously, it will be under the government's direction and the government's leadership.
Question: How much do you think the international community, many of these countries that contribute towards climate change, should be giving towards recovery reconstruction here in the Bahamas now that you have seen Abaco?
We have been working in the United Nations with three governments in the Caribbean to present proposals aiming at a swap between parts of the debt and the investments in resilience and reconstruction. And we hope that international financial institutions will be able to agree that this is one very interesting way for the international community to support countries in the reconstruction and in creating the conditions for them to be more resilient under these circumstances.
It is necessary to understand that a middle income country with the level of vulnerability that exists in relation to climate change today can require also forms of international support, and one of the possible forms of support the UN has been working on and studying and proposing is exactly the possibility to swap part of the depth into investments in resilience and reconstruction.