Once again, South Florida was spared a direct hit from a monster hurricane, but an island neighbor with which we have bonds of blood has been devastated by Hurricane Dorian.
South Florida already has jumped into full rescue mode, stepping up with donations for a planned flotilla of boats and planes loaded with supplies and headed for the island chain, where Marsh Harbour and Abaco and Grand Bahama Island have been pummeled. Helping those in need is what we do.
In Miami, nowhere is concern likely higher than in Coconut Grove where the descendants of so many pioneering and prominent Bahamians still live.
The days and weeks of providing lifesaving supplies to people in the worst-hit areas will fulfill Bahamians short-term needs.
However, there is reason to fear that the Bahamas, a former British commonwealth that achieved independence in 1973 and relies on tourism as a major economic engine, will take years of recovery to thrive again. There is no FEMA, no wealthy central government, no endless resources on the way.
The Bahamas’ future depends on how it reacts to this hurricane devastation — a hit it has not experienced since 1929.
A blueprint to recovery already exists.
It’s called We Will Rebuild, and it was the masterful beginning of South Miami-Dade’s rebirth after Hurricane Andrew almost wiped it off the map in August 1992.
The late Alvah H. Chapman, former publisher of the Miami Herald, chairman of the Knight Ridder newspapers and one of South Florida’s most influential philanthropic and civic leaders, developed We Will Rebuild at a time when post-hurricane chaos reigned.
We Will Rebuild featured unusual, but smart, joint partnerships driven by the private sector with support of government.
More important, it had credible leadership, reliable and responsible fiscal management and a broadly accepted plan of action. It resolved to instill transparency, accountability, oversight power and centralized authority into the process, a promise that it kept. All of this helped make it a success of massive rebuilding.
We Will Rebuild’s agenda began by raising $19 million for hurricane relief. With that money, it began its work:
By October 1992, two months after the storm, it was ready to spend money on recovery projects.
Here are the early goals of We Will Rebuild, as published by the Miami Herald:
Opening “one-stop” centers where storm victims can go for everything they need. The services would range from the help of contractors, architects and bankers to mental and spiritual counseling.
Buying a number of lots and turning them over to groups such Habitat for Humanity, to build affordable housing in 12-18 months. We Will Rebuild gave $125,000 to pay for half the cost of buying 57 vacant lots in Richmond Heights, where Habitat would build the low-cost homes.
An “Adopt a House of Worship” program to help the places of worship most damaged by the storm.
This kind of direction is what the Bahamas needs. And with a fiscally responsible spending plan in place, private foundations, philanthropists and grant-making organizations — to say nothing of the cruise lines, hotel chains and other industries that rely on the Bahamas for their own well-being — should be willing contributors.
Though We Will Rebuild provides a template, clearly, Bahamians taking the lead would have to take what fits from the plan and reconfigure what doesn’t to be most effective.
With so much overwhelming devastation, the Bahamian government could bring residents a measure of comfort by assuring them that the nation is moving forward toward a mutual goal in which they, too, had a voice in creating.
In 1992, that gave Miami-Dade residents a sense of a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. That’s what Bahamians should have, too.
Yes, they need water and, food and shelter right now. But they also need to know that there is a better future.