Washington, D.C., 30 September 2019 (PAHO/WHO) − One month after Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamian islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, Minister of Health Duane Sands urged fellow health leaders from throughout the Americas to take urgent action on climate change. “We must now do all that we can to mitigate the global effects of warming our planet while we have the time to do so,” he said.
Speaking at the opening of the 57th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Sands outlined key actions he believes need to be taken. “We must work to disincentivize behaviors that add to increasing carbon footprints and the triple threat of turbocharged winds, massive rainfall and catastrophic sea surges that the people who reside in small island developing states must now accept as a new normal. At the same time, let us create workable energy and built environment solutions for sustainable and resilient communities.”
PAHO Director Dr. Carisa F. Etienne, who traveled to the Bahamas shortly after the hurricane, cited “the tremendous loss of life, the injuries, the utter devastation and destruction of property and the extensive dislocation and psychological trauma resulting from the catastrophic rampage of Hurricane Dorian upon the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.” Speaking for PAHO, she said, “We recommit to working with you to ensure the speedy re-establishment and effective functioning of your health system and services on those two islands.”
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who also visited the hurricane-ravaged islands, said, “What I saw in the Bahamas is a tragic reminder of the urgent need to both mitigate and adapt to our changing climate. I saw the same thing on my recent visit to the Pacific, where climate change is stealing homes, and stealing hope. Although small island states are the least responsible for climate change, they are among the most at risk.”
Tedros noted that health leaders from around the world endorsed an action plan on climate change and health in small island developing states during the World Health Assembly last May. “Our vision is that by 2030, every island in the Caribbean will have a health system that is resilient to climate change,” he said. "This is ambitious, but doable.”
Also last May, the countries and territories of the Caribbean launched a Caribbean Action Plan on Health and Climate Change,” which provides a roadmap to ensure that health is front and center of national climate change planning in the region. It focuses on protecting the health of Caribbean populations from the effects of climate change, such as heatwaves, storms, hurricanes, droughts, floods, outbreaks of disease, and other issues, by strengthening health systems, promoting intersectoral collaboration between the health and environment sectors, and increasing financing.
On 7-8 October, countries and territories of the Caribbean will meet in Kingston, Jamaica, for a workshop on the implementation of this Action Plan. The workshop aims to support countries in strengthening national and technical capacities, improving project concepts, building partnerships, and taking stock of climate action needs in the Caribbean.
The devastating Category 5 storm made landfall on 1 September in northwest Bahamas and severely affected the health sector, with significant destruction of equipment and medical supplies and electrical and water supplies in Abaco and Grand Bahama. Some 75,000 persons were affected by the storm; about 600 are still missing, and 53 are confirmed dead.
PAHO/WHO is the only United Nations agency with a physical presence in the Bahamas. The organization has deployed 20 staff members and coordinated the mobilization of 7 International Emergency Medical Teams for the response.
PAHO's Directing Council meetings provide a forum for discussion and joint action on health issues of regional concern, providing crucial guidance for PAHO’s technical cooperation with its member countries.
− Caribbean Action Plan on Health and Climate Change
− Caribbean Ministers of Health meet to approve plan on health system resilience in the face of climate change
− Third Global Conference on Health and Climate