Disaster Reconstruction Authority (DRA) Home Repair Programme in Grand Bahama and Abaco, is moving “full steam ahead,” said Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Management and Reconstruction, Iram Lewis, MP.
“We are moving full steam ahead with hurricane reconstruction,” Lewis confirmed, when contacted by this daily recently.
“During the complete lockdowns, we did not allow construction to continue, except for the Rand Memorial Hospital COVID-19 section and the Cancer Association facility,” he added.
Lewis said that every resident who applied, so far, has been processed and issued vouchers, although The Freeport News has been informed by a number of persons, to the contrary.
“I think, close to 400 vouchers have been issued to date. We have approved over 2,500 (applications) and we are still processing additional applications. As soon as they are processed, we will be issuing them as fast as they are approved,” said the minister.
He explained that part of the hold-up was that DRA officials were awaiting documents from homeowners.
“Of course, with the lockdowns because of COVID-19, our inspection process was pretty much slowed down in terms of having access to persons homes.
“In Abaco, a lot of the inspectors were from New Providence, and, because of the lockdowns and curfews they had to return to the capital, to their families.
“However, we do have an officer in Abaco continuing the work,” Lewis assured.
He added that as quickly as lockdowns are relaxed, the inspectors will return to Abaco to ensure that inspections and assessment are done.
“We moving as fast as we can. The DRA vendors, of course, we are working remotely … the staff is working from their laptops and computers; we are meeting via Zoom or WebX.
“The call centre at the Office of the Prime Minister is still open, as well as the centre in Abaco, for persons who don’t have access to computers. However, we are still mindful of social/physical distancing, as we are still receiving information.
“So, we are doing the best that we can under the present conditions,” he said.
With respect to hurricane preparation, Lewis noted that the start of the next season is less than 40 days away.
“We are advising residents to continue with their hurricane preparations. You know, do what you have to do in the meantime. I know it is not as easy as it might have been if COVID-19 was not around, but we want to encourage residents to prepare as best they can under the circumstances.
“Of course, the hardware stores are open for reconstruction, but I am sure they will cater to those who need other protective material for hurricane preparedness, he furthered.”
Also speaking about the concern of food security, Lewis said that it is very important that Bahamians go back to basics and play a more active role in feeding ourselves.
“A great part of that is farming and fishing … backyard farming is something that I advocated for from day one. It was a part of my campaign.
“Of course, I started a backyard nursery in South Bahamia, which was upgraded by Mr. Anthony Hudson, and he’s done a wonderful job.
“He’s given out products to residents, to schools in the constituency – Bartlett Hill Primary, Lewis Yard Primary, Sister Mary Patricia Junior High School, St. George’s High School – to assist with their agricultural programme,” said the minister.
He noted that it is his hope that the students would have taken the technology home.
“I am encouraging residents to clear a portion of their yard, the areas where you have flowers, plants, grass – clear that up and put down some vegetables, tomatoes and leafy greens,” Lewis suggested.
“We are doing our best with the nursery, but there is a bigger plan coming up for a community garden in Central Grand Bahama. We have already identified the space; we are in active discussion with the owner of the land.
“We are going to do something big that can take care of the entire Central GB, and, if that one area is not sufficient, then we will subsidize an area in the Freeport,” he added.
The minister noted that an area across the creek in the Hepburn Town and Bartlett Hill will also be identified for another community garden, that will be able to sustain those communities.
“We want to be able to feed ourselves. So, step-by-step, for persons who may not be able to buy seeds, what I’ve been doing is saving the tomato seeds, green pepper and scallions. Believe it or not they have been growing.
“These days we have to be creative. We have to be resourceful, and we are to play a part in feeding ourselves. Our forefathers did it. They did a wonderful job and of course, we can go back to that.
“There is no need for us to look at farming as a disgrace. It is a necessity; we all can do it. God gave us good soil, rain and the ability.
“So, I just want to encourage all residents to prepare for the hurricane season and also make some space in the yard. And if you don’t have the yard space, you can use pots and other systems. You can google techniques online … there are many things that we can do. So, I just want to encourage our people to wake up and play a more active role in feeding ourselves,” said Lewis.