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As Bahamians contemplate the future growth of their country, the question normally asked is “what kind of a country are we building?”  The answer for the vast majority is either unclear or not known.

The Bahamas is a one hundred thousand square mile archipelago, made up of seven hundred islands and two thousand rocks and cays. It lies northwest to southeast in the Atlantic and is roughly 45 nautical miles off the coast of Florida.  For more than one hundred years, the development of these islands has been concentrated largely in the northern part of the country.  As a result, there has been what economists and sociologists call “the rural push and the urban pull.”  This means that due to the lack of economic activity or growth in the south, there has been population movement to the north in large numbers while the south became depopulated.

In the southern islands, communities have died, as the population moved to New Providence or Grand Bahama in search of jobs and a better way of life.  The islands most affected were Cat Island, San Salvador, Long Island, Acklins, Crooked Island, Mayaguana and Inagua.

The first Post Office in the Family Islands was located in Pitts Town, Crooked Island.  Back in the 1930s, the population in nearby Long Cay County was roughly 3,000 persons.  So vibrant was the Cay that the largest Anglican Church outside Nassau was built there and there was a brisk trade between South America and Long Cay, where a Port of Entry was established.  Many of the able men at the time travelled to Panama to work on the Panama Canal or for other employment opportunities. Today, the population on Long Cay is comprised of six persons.

While the basic infrastructure exists there with a dock, roads, telecommunications and electricity, the school is closed, and the people have moved out. The story is the same for Crooked Island where thousands once lived.  The population there is some 300 people with a High School of 20 children.  In Acklins, where thousands once lived, whole settlements are closed and houses are boarded up.  There are churches in every major settlement with only a handful of attendees.  So Pastors on the island have decided to have combined services in order to have a crowd of worshippers.  This is a place where some of the most prominent educators, politicians and businessmen in the country were born and received their early education.

In Mayaguana, the population is some 220 persons with a narrative of the social conditions the same as Acklins and Crooked Island.  On this island there was once a United States Naval Base where scores of Mayaguanians were employed.

Inagua is a little better off, even though there is no real growth.  The inhabitants there are saved by the presence of the Morton Salt Company.  So, it is a company town.  The agricultural sector of those islands which once sustained residents has been decimated, largely due to hurricanes and climate change.  As a result, climate refugees apply to The Bahamas, as whole communities moved to New Providence for a better way of life.

Meanwhile in the capital New Providence, where most Bahamians are employed in the tourism industry, they are oblivious about the depopulation of the islands in the south and for many of them, they simply do not care. While successive administrations of the government have ensured that the infrastructure in these islands in the south is provided and maintained, there has been little effort to drive and promote economic activity there as efforts are concentrated in the central and northwest Bahamas.

We believe the future of The Bahamas is in the south where there is sufficient land, and the beauty of the islands is unmatched.  To his credit, the administration of former Prime Minister Perry Christie made a gallant effort to provide what he called anchor projects for the islands.  The one that held promise was The I-Group in Mayaguana.  That development was frustrated by a change in government and what was called “a cancel and review” policy by the Ingraham administration.  After the renegotiation of land between the government and the investor, the project stalled and its future is uncertain.

Today, there is little or no hope for young people across the southern Bahamas.  After leaving or graduating from High School, they head north, leaving their aging parents behind.  As a result, there is zero population growth and no real economy on those islands.

The government of The Bahamas has to become intentional and focused on the dying part of the archipelago and incentivize both local and foreign investors in a
meaningful way to develop those islands.  This can be done in many ways, including making the entire area a duty-free zone and increasing air transportation to the area. Currently for Acklins and Crooked Island in particular, the national flag carrier Bahamasair has only two flights per week, making it very difficult for the conduct of business or to encourage Bahamians to resettle there.

We must rethink the development of the southern Bahamas in order to improve the quality of life for those Bahamians who remain there and for the diversification of tourism and for economic growth generally.

If we fail to do so and those islands are abandoned, there is a national security risk with depopulated islands.  Further, we will perpetuate a future of doom and gloom to generations of Bahamians.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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