A 4,100 mile journey from the windy seaside in Cornwall to the pristine sandscapes of the Bahamas would, for many of us, be the adventure of a lifetime.
But for eight sailors from a Royal Navy Air Station in Helston, Cornwall, the trip across the Atlantic is serious work — as the Brits are front and centre of the UK government’s response to the worst storm to hit the Bahamas in history.
One’s a chef, another is a steward. There are two medics, two naval airmen, a flight deck officer, and a logistics rating — meaning, an apprentice learning on the job.
The crew are aboard a ship called Mounts Bay, one of three in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary that has been docked in the Carribean since June in anticipation of the Atlantic hurricane season — before it was dispatched immediately to the Bahamas as the storm started to circle last month.
It is delivering everything from water and soap to ration packs and hygiene kits, paid for by Britain’s lifesaving UK aid budget from the Department for International Development’s (DfID).
“There is a huge international aid effort here now, with more and more people arriving every day”@JonathanStone10, DFID’s humanitarian team leader in the Bahamas, spoke to @BBCNews about the UK’s response to #HurricaneDorian.@DefenceHQ@RFAMountsBay@foreignoffice@24CdoREpic.twitter.com/jbNins1OEc— DFID (@DFID_UK) September 7, 2019
The United Nations has confirmed that 70,000 people desperately need food and shelter after Hurricane Dorian hit last month. At least 43 people have died, although that number could reportedly rise to the thousands since so many people are still officially missing.
Gusts of up to 220mph saw homes and cars decimated, with shocking images of the destruction shared widely across the world.
“This is probably the most sad and worst day of my life,” said Prime Minister of the Bahamas Hubert Minnis on September 1. “We’re facing a hurricane…that we’ve never seen in the history of the Bahamas.”
The sailors — working alongside others on the ground — have had their work cut out to deliver staff, kit, and supplies to those most in need. But with £1.5 million in UK aid funding behind them, they’re starting to see some impact on the ground.
The Mounts Bay team have a helicopter on board the ship called The Wildcat that’s helping them get to hard-to-reach places.
Since they arrived in the Bahamas, they’ve rescued somebody trapped under rubble, bringing them back to the ship for treatment. Later, they evacuated a woman with her three children, including a young baby.
“The children were in a poorly condition and required immediate medical care,” surgeon lieutenant Rebecca Miles told Cornwall Live. “It was hugely rewarding to use my training and skills to provide essential and immediate life-saving care to this family.”
"We are ready to provide assistance where necessary,” added Lee Holborn, a flight commander lieutenant. “It is always rewarding to know that you have made a significant difference, not only to the wider island, but to the individual families of those affected."
The Royal Navy has delivered aid to the Bahamas which was left devastated by Hurricane Dorian.— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 7, 2019
At least 43 people have been killed and hundreds more are missing in the Bahamas - more here: https://t.co/jgq8HHQVMLpic.twitter.com/4tB1kyOJ8k
Britain has legally committed to spending 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on UK aid. It makes the UK a world leader in development, with DfID one of the most effective and transparent spenders of aid on the planet.
And UK aid does some seriously impactful work, above and beyond emergency relief: it’s saved the lives of an estimated 990,000 children by providing vaccines against deadly diseases; put 14 million kids through school; and helped get 23 million women and girls access to modern contraception.
Although the primary purpose of UK aid is to empower people across the world to lift themselves out of extreme poverty — officially defined as living on less than $1.90 (£1.50) a day — it can also be used to support small countries suffering from the consequences of natural disasters.
Previously, the Bahamas would not have been eligible for UK aid, since its GNI per capita is higher than the internationally agreed benchmark — making it technically too wealthy to qualify for criteria for aid funding.
But recent changes to Official Development Assistance (ODA) rules mean that small territories like the Bahamas can now legitimately receive help if extreme weather has been proven to have hit its GNI hard.
Yet the Sun on Sunday still reported that “red tape” had stopped the government from using UK aid money to help. That’s categorically untrue, according to DfID’s response to the article.
“The aid rules have not stopped the UK from providing humanitarian assistance to the Bahamas,” a government spokesperson said. “The UK government has worked alongside local authorities and international partners on the ground to provide urgent life-saving assistance.”
“Where the UK considers the rules – established over 40 years ago — to be outdated, we have led the way in pushing for reforms,” they added.