The location of the Bahamas archipelago in the Atlantic hurricane belt means that the islands are subject to regular hydro-meteorological disasters including hurricanes, storms and cyclones which occur most frequently in the months of September, October, August and November. The low relief of the lands make them particularly vulnerable to flooding caused by storm surges and sea level rise, and while the topography of the islands means that they face limited landslide risk, the calcareous and fragile nature of the soils means that they are vulnerable to soil loss caused by rain and wind action.
This section provides a summary of key natural hazards and their associated socioeconomic impacts in a given country. And it allows quick evaluation of most vulnerable areas through the spatial comparison of natural hazard data with development data, thereby identifying exposed livelihoods and natural systems.
The charts provide overview of the most frequent natural disaster in a given country and understand the impacts of those disasters on human populations.
Climate change is now recognized to have a significant impact on disaster management efforts and pose a significant threat to the efforts to meet the growing needs of the most vulnerable populations. The demands of disaster risk management are such that concise, clear, and reliable information is crucial. The information presented here offers insight into the frequency, impact and occurrence of natural hazards. Source (PDF)
Understanding natural hazard occurrence as well as historical climate conditions, in relation to development contexts, is critical to understanding a country’s historical vulnerability. This tool allows the visualization of different natural hazards or historical climate conditions with socio-economic and development datasets. Select the Development Context and either a Natural Hazard or Climate Condition and overlay horizontally by sliding the toggle left or right to gain a broader sense of historically vulnerable areas.
Data presented under Historical Climate Conditions are reanalysis products derived from ERA5-Land data. ERA5-Land is a global land-surface dataset at 9 km resolution, consistent with atmospheric data from the ERA5 reanalysis from 1950 onward. Climate reanalyses combine past observations with models to generate consistent time series of multiple climate variables. They provide a comprehensive description of the observed climate as it has evolved during recent decades, on 3D grids at sub-daily intervals.
This data has been collected, aggregated and processed by the Climate Resilience Cluster of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) initiative.
- During the period 1990-1999, forty-three hurricanes hit the Bahamas, giving a mean of 4.3 hurricanes per decade.
- Storm surges can result in flooding, to which the Bahamas islands are extremely prone due to their low relief. Coastal flooding may also be a consequence of sea level rise, to which the dense tourism development along the coast is highly vulnerable. Most of the infrastructure and settlements of the islands are located along or near to the coast where they are particularly vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise which will have serious economic and social implications for residents and for the tourism sector.
- Sea swells are a common occurrence in the Bahamas during the winter months of December-April, usually caused by intense mid-latitude storms in the North Atlantic Ocean. During each winter season, there may be 5-10 swell events which bring large waves that cause considerable beach erosion.
- The dry nature of the soils in the Bahamas means that they are particularly vulnerable to temperature increases and decreased rainfall. The risk of drought increases along a southeastern gradient since the more southern islands already experience only half of the rainfall that falls in the more northern islands. Additionally, since the weather of the Bahamas is influenced by ENSO events, the likelihood of drought is increased if El Niño episodes become more frequent and/or intense.
More information on natural hazards can be found at ThinkHazard.
- Assessment Studies: In order to inform adaptation measures and programs, baseline data needs to be made available to decision makers. This data will come from assessments and studies on hazard prone areas and vulnerable ecosystems and communities in the Bahamas. Impact assessment studies will facilitate mapping of flood prone areas and identification of key vulnerable sectors and communities, which will allow decision makers to develop and prioritize adaptation strategies and measures.
- Early Warning: While changes in frequency of hurricanes remains uncertain, likely increases in intensity necessitates the need to develop early warning systems to alert and prepare investors, residents and tourists in order to reduce losses. Early warning needs to be high priority in the northern islands given past hurricane experiences. Storm and flood warning systems will protect vulnerable populations and reduce risks to the tourism and agricultural sectors.
- Land Use Planning: Measures for disaster risk management will need to strengthen land use guidelines and zoning regulations that prevent encroachment to protect the coastline against the negative impacts of storm surges and sea level rise. This might prove problematic as the major economic sector, tourism, tends to out-compete other land uses. National priorities may focus on expanding the tourism industry regardless of environmental impact, thereby hindering disaster risk management efforts and increasing the country’s vulnerability to future extreme climatic events.
- Coastal Protection: Given the coastal nature of the vast majority of settlements and tourism development in the Bahamas, adaptation policies which include hard and soft engineering defenses as well as retreat policies need to be implemented. Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) will be critical to protecting the coastline with its associated infrastructure. This will require public sector investment to climate proof public infrastructure and additional financing will be required to improve housing designs to withstand coastal flooding.
- Water Conservation and Supply: Groundwater supplies are at risk of saltwater intrusion and contamination during storm surges and hurricanes. Water-related infrastructure such as wells and reverse osmosis facilities will need to be suitably located and adequately engineered to withstand the effects of storm surge, flooding and sea level rise. Since the water sector includes the government as well as private companies, both public sector and private sector investments will be required. Disaster risk management efforts should promote public awareness and education on water conservation in anticipation of depleting freshwater reserves. An increase in water barged to the southern islands will be needed to supplement groundwater supplies and, in extreme events such as droughts, water rationing may be needed. Accurate rainfall records should be kept in this context.