THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS
In September of 2019, just one year after The Bahamas presented its first Voluntary National Review (VNR) to the United Nations, Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama where entire towns were destroyed by Category 5 winds and storm surges of over 20 feet. As a Small Island Developing State, the effects of climate change impact us the most, even though we contribute to it the least. Hurricane Dorian was a devastating example of just how strong these effects have become.
In September 2019 Government authorities responded quickly by creating the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction, thus, making a significant step towards strengthening the national disaster preparedness and response capabilities. The new ministry is comprised of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) which work together to facilitate mitigation planning, community preparedness, public information-sharing and recovery coordination.
Many organizations and countries lent a hand to assist with building The Bahamas back better. NEMA coordinated emergency response with support from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), and various countries and agencies including those in the UN System, particularly the humanitarian agencies. During his visit to The Bahamas, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres commended the Government’s response to the disaster and pledged the full support of the United Nations. These partnerships were instrumental in The Bahamas’ recovery efforts.
In March 2020, the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas announced the first confirmed COVID 19 case. Immediately, the country began to prepare for the varying effects of the pandemic. This came in the form of Emergency Orders from the Prime Minister that instituted, inter alia, a lockdown schedule for the country. Mandatory mask-wearing and increased sanitation protocols were made mandatory along with nightly curfews and the shutdown of all non-essential businesses and organizations, commercial sailing, public transportation, and gatherings. The COVID 19 Protocols were also accompanied by the creation of a COVID 19 Enforcement Unit (CEU) which is located within the Royal Bahamas Police Force. The purpose of the Unit is to curb breaches of quarantine protocols and to patrol public spaces to ensure health guidelines are being adhered to.
Like many other countries, The Bahamas was shaken in unprecedented ways by the global COVID 19 pandemic which is occurring while the country is still rebuilding and recovering from the most catastrophic hurricane experienced in the country, to date. Both historic events have affected progress towards the implementation of the SDGs. While there has been some set back, The Bahamas remains resilient and has responded quickly and strategically towards the nation’s ongoing efforts to achieve Vision 2030, The National Development Plan.
The Bahamas’ economy is heavily dependent on tourism and financial services. COVID 19 brought the tourism industry to a halt, creating a domino effect on hotel and tourism-dependent jobs. To mitigate the stress caused by the lack of employment, the Government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas launched the National Food Distribution Taskforce which delivered emergency food assistance. To date, it is one of the largest public-private social care initiatives in The Bahamas. To facilitate the packaging and distribution of food items, the government partnered with Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development also provided emergency food assistance and made special provisions for tourism workers. The National Insurance Board paid out over $45 million in unemployment benefits to assist those in need.
The Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) was launched and has invested over $2 million into over 550 small businesses through their grant programmes which remained accessible throughout COVID 19. The SBDC serves to provide existing and budding entrepreneurs with the resources and funds needed to open and maintain a successful business. Through their Access Accelerator programme and other initiatives, the SBDC ultimately works to improve the economy.
Notwithstanding the varying challenges of the past two years, The Bahamas reaffirms its commitment and the high priority attached to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in national programmes and policies. The country is making strides across all sectors to ensure that we create the sustainable future that we wish to see and that we remain committed to leaving no one behind.
The Bahamas’ delegation looks forward to participating in the High-Level Political Forum of the Economic and Social Council of July 2021 and values the opportunities that will be garnered from the productive exchanges with other delegations and stakeholders.
The Bahamas is a low-lying, small-island, archipelagic developing state. The country has enjoyed the peaceful transition of Government within its Parliamentary democracy over its 45 years as an independent country. The economy, driven by the twin pillars of tourism and financial services, has been generally good, delivering a high quality of life for many. Nevertheless, there are some important negative trends which suggest that many have been left behind as the country progressed.
Youth unemployment, for example, has remained high – rising to as much as 30% in 2015. Some 13% of the population lives in poverty, with 25% of these being children between the ages of 5-14. Key industries are not producing enough growth to drive sufficient employment expansion. Challenges prevail in both the public education and health care systems leading to less than optimal results. The country is experiencing serious infrastructure challenges leading to marked uneven development. Public institutions require strengthening. Finally, like so many small-island developing states, the country’s greatest threat is its vulnerability to climate change and sea level rise.
Integration of the SDGs into the National Development Plan
In 2014, The Bahamas began the process of developing a 25-year National Development Plan: Vision 2040. Recognizing the synergies between the National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals, the Government of The Bahamas ensured that the 2030 Agenda was localised into its national development planning process thereby providing a roadmap for the implementation of the SDGs.
The national process for preparing The Bahamas’ SDG review is currently guided by a collaboration between the Economic Development and Planning Unit (EDPU) in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, it is recognized that these institutional arrangements must be strengthened and formalized to ensure that all segments of society are more involved in, and take ownership of, the Sustainable Development Goals.
Leaving No-One -Behind
Strengthening the resilience of groups and communities which are marginalized or have not benefited sufficiently from the success of the country is a key goal of the recommendations of the implementation framework of the SDGs through the National Development Plan. These programmes must consider the special issues of the elderly, youth at risk and the particular, but different challenges for both men and women, as well as the geographical disparities within the country. For this reason, the Government in collaboration with Civil Society, Academia and the Private Sector has created a special zone for a traditionally marginalized region known as the “Over the Hill Community” as a pilot for a comprehensive poverty alleviation strategy focusing on social and economic empowerment, rejuvenation, smart and green technology and programmes which focus on youth and the elderly. This project will be replicated throughout the country.
Areas where support is needed for finance, capacity-building, technology, partnerships, etc.
The Bahamas recognises that in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the country will also need strong institutions and access to the necessary resources. Notwithstanding the high GDP per capita of the country, The Bahamas remains a vulnerable, developing country. The Government continues to take steps to strengthen its public institutions including, the introduction of a new programme to strengthen its financial and budgetary management systems, programme delivery capacity and the development of a National Statistical System. Strengthening the country’s statistical capacity for the production of high quality, timely, reliable and disaggregated data, is particularly critical to support effective policy and decision-making and to ensure the continuous review of the country’s progress in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Bahamas understands that meaningful sustainable development is critical for its very survival. The Bahamas is, therefore fully committed to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These global goals are consistent with and are fully integrated into the country’s National Development Plan framework – Vision 2040.
The Bahamas is pleased to present its National Voluntary Report at the 2018 High Level Political Forum of ECOSOC to showcase the work which has been done towards meaningful development for our citizens and residents and also to learn from the experiences of the other 46 countries presenting this year.