UNITED NATIONS (AP) — As the Bahamas strives to recover from Hurricane Dorian, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis appealed to world leaders Friday to tackle climate change — and encouraged travelers to visit to help the country rebuild.
Telling the U.N. General Assembly the storm was “a generational tragedy” for his country, Minnis added to a growing chorus of pleas from island nations for help defending against rising seas, intensifying storms and other perils of a warming planet.
Two years ago, Dominica’s prime minister made that case to the assembly days after Hurricane Maria devastated his country. On Friday, Minnis was the voice from a hurricane-ravaged nation speaking for islands worldwide “on the front lines of being swallowed into an abyss.”
“When one storm can obliterate an island-state or a number of states in one hurricane season, how will we survive?” he asked, calling on the international community “to treat the global climate emergency as the greatest challenge facing humanity.”
One of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded, Dorian bulldozed parts of the Bahamas with sustained winds of 185 mph (295 kph) and flooding that reached about 23 feet (7 meters) high in some areas.
It was an illustration of how warming ocean waters can be “mobilized into instruments of death and destruction,” Minnis said.
The death toll currently stands at 56, with 600 people still missing, he said. Homes, schools and hospitals were devastated. Some people clung to tree branches or perched atop furniture for days in the floodwaters.
Scientists say, in general, global warming is responsible for more intense and wetter storms, but they can’t directly link any single weather event to climate change without extensive study. Studies show that in the Atlantic, there likely will be fewer storms overall, with less frequent smaller storms but an increase in Category 4 and 5 storms.
While Dorian was “a physical apocalypse” for parts of the Bahamas, many parts of the island chain weren’t affected, Minnis noted, inviting travelers to visit them.
Tourism is the Bahamas’ main industry, and revenue from visitors will “play a vital in role in reconstructing and rebuilding the affected areas,” he said.