Bahamas Rebuild in the Wake of Hurricane Dorian

Thousands remain missing and displaced in the Bahamas following the devastating impact of Hurricane Dorian earlier this month. The storm, which struck the island chain as a category five hurricane on Sept. 1, ravaged the country, its infrastructure and its people. 

The storm approached the northwestern islands of the Bahamas early the morning of Sept. 1, following evacuation orders from Bahamian officials. With wind speeds reaching up to 185 mph, the hurricane then stalled for approximately 60 hours in the area, leading to 3 days of life-threatening conditions for the residents of the northwestern Bahamas and the entire island chain generally.  “We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Bahaman Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in a nationwide report on Monday, Sept. 2. “The devastation is unprecedented and extensive.” He further cited reports from the Carribean Disaster Management Agency, stating that the storm was the strongest recorded Atlantic storm to have struck land. 

The greatest impact of the storm targeted the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, where 50 people died, 42 of whom were on the Abacos, according to reports made by the commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, Anthony Ferguson, on Sept. 9. The storm also took a heavy toll on infrastructure, flooding businesses, roads and family homes. Aerial images show towns and residential areas  flattened, with only the strongest buildings still standing in the areas where the storm struck hardest, including eastern Grand Bahama. Reports put the loss of infrastructure at $7 billion, with commercial Satellite images showing as much as 60 percent of Grand Bahama submerged following two days of rain and flooding. 

Both domestic and international services have provided support to the post-hurricane islands, bringing in medical aid, rescue searchers, food, supplies, financial support and other much-needed support. As the focus on emergency-and-critical-response fades weeks after the hurricane, the country has set its sights on rebuilding infrastructure and stabilizing the tourism-reliant economy. The deputy director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, Ellison Thompson, responded to questions on aid by saying “all of the donations are welcome, but they can also, very much, assist us by still visiting the islands of the Bahamas in the unaffected areas. They are open for business.” According to the Bahamas Investment Authority, over half of the country’s gross annual income is linked to the tourism industry, and a consistent tourist season is an integral part of the Northwestern Bahamas’ eventual recovery. 

Two weeks after the storm, recovery efforts were almost sidetracked by tropical storm Humberto that was forecasted to hit the northwestern Bahamas on Sunday, Sept. 15. However, a shift of course prevented the predicted collision that officials warned could have set back recovery even further. Meanwhile, damage is being assessed as emergency response teams work to house thousands of displaced people, return electricity to vast sections of the islands, and rebuild. However, two weeks following the storm 1,300 people remain listed as missing. A number officials say this is largely associated with people being unable to reconnect with loved ones. Despite setbacks, the northwestern islands and the country as a whole are taking active steps toward recovering from what Minnis called a “historic tragedy.”

Attacks on Saudi Oil Stoke Fears of Violent Retaliation

On Sept. 14 a presently unknown actor attacked the Abqaiq processing facility and the Khurais oil field in Saudi Arabia according to CNBC. The Houthis, a group involved in the Yemeni Civil War, claimed responsibility for the attacks which hampered 50% of the Saudi and 5% of the global oil supply. 

Members of the Saudi and American governments seem to disbelieve the Houthis, and instead either blame Iran for directly attacking Saudi oil or using a proxy to carry out the strikes. On the day of the attack, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that “amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.” 

NPR reported that the Saudi coalition has been more cautious in their response to the attacks, but on Sept. 18 a Saudi military spokesman, Turki al-Malki, stated that the attacks were “unquestionably sponsored by Iran.” 

President Trump took the rhetoric a step further on Sept. 15 when he tweeted that America is “locked and loaded” for a response against the perpetrator of the attacks. Although the Vice President’s chief of staff, Marc Short, walked this statement back the next day, when he said that Trump did not necessarily imply military intervention, this rhetoric marks a significant increase in tensions. However, so far, the only response the US has committed to is increased sanctions on Iran, which Trump announced on Sept. 20, according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Iran has staunchly denied involvement in the attacks on Saudi Arabia. Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, tweeted that the “[US] having failed at ‘max pressure,’ [Mike Pompeo is] turning to ‘max deceit.’ US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory. Blaming Iran won’t end disaster. Accepting our April ‘15 proposal to end war & begin talks may.” A foreign ministry spokesman went on to reiterate that “such blind accusations are inappropriate comments in a diplomatic context” according to CNN.     

The world may never know with certainty who launched the attacks. NPR reported on satellite evidence that suggests that the attacks were launched from the north instead of the south (Iran and Iraq are to the north of Saudi Arabia, while the Houthis in Yemen are to the south). Additionally, the strikes were extremely precise, more accurate than any attacks that the Houthis have carried out on Saudi Arabia previously. So despite the protestations of Iran, circumstantial evidence implicates the Iranian regime. 

Professor Matthew Fehrs further explored the likelihood of Saudi retaliation and what form it would take, suggesting that whatever the Saudis choose they will undoubtedly need the approval of the US. In regard to the form of the response, Fehrs suggested that it is unlikely that the Saudis or the US will directly attack Iran since “Trump uses bellicose rhetoric but is reticent to use the US military.” However, a response may come in the form of a further expansion of Saudi intervention in Yemen.

The Saudi war in Yemen is just one of the ways in which Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s (commonly referred to as MBS) reign has ushered in a more aggressive foreign policy for the oil-rich nation. However, Fehrs stated that these attacks at the heart of Saudi wealth directly undercut the power of MBS. Conversely, these successful strikes, against a long-term regional adversary, will undoubtedly bolster domestic support for the Iranian government.

Although the Saudis have announced that oil production will return to normal levels by the end of September, the long-term implications of these attacks may very well reverberate for years according to CNBC. The Saudis have yet to respond decisively. Additionally, Fehrs suggested that the overwhelming success of these drone attacks may usher in a new phase of warfare which has “dramatic implications on soft domestic targets.” Particularly if the Houthis did in fact launch the attacks, because that suggests that any small group could attack much larger powers with relative ease. 

Violence in Afghanistan Ignites Tension Before Election

Three separate bombings in Afghanistan over the last week have killed at least 48 people and wounded dozens more as the country’s election approaches on Sept. 28. The attacks, which come only days after the US ended peace talks with the Taliban, began on Sept. 15 and have targeted locations of significance to the upcoming elections.

The first two suicide-bombings took place on Tuesday, Sept. 17. The earlier attack began at 11:30 local time at an election rally in Parwan Province for President Ashraf Ghani, who was in attendance. According to reporters and statements made by the Afghan goverment, a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle loaded with explosives into an entrance of the venue hosting the campaign rally. The resulting blast killed 26 and injured 42 in a crowd of approximately 2,200, many of whom were civilians. Ghani, who was inside the building at the time of the explosion, was reportedly uninjured.

The second attack occurred only hours later at 13:00 local time in the middle of Kabul, the nation’s capital. This explosion occurred at a crowded intersection near Massood Square, in close proximity to both the US Embassy and The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Afghanistan. Official reports from the Afghan government say that the blast killed 22 people and wounded an unspecified amount of others. The Taliban, who claimed responsibility for both attacks, said that the Kabul explosion was targeted at an army base for Afghan troops.

Shortly after the attacks, Ghani condemned the actions of the Taliban. He posted a public statement on Twitter, saying “Kabul was also hit by a coward enemy and again the target was civilian lives. I offer my heartfelt condolences to victims of today’s tragedies in Kabul and Parwan and pray for the speedy recovery of those who were wounded. We stand united in this hour of grief.”

This was not the end of this week of violence, however. On Sept. 18 a third incident occured, when multiple gunmen and at least one confirmed suicide bomber entered a goverment building in Jalalabad, a city in Eastern Afghanistan. The building that was targeted is a distribution center of national identity cards, a form of identification which will allow citizens to vote in the upcoming election. Reports say that attackers first detonated bombs outside the building before entering with armed men.The Afghan government has not yet released an official statement on fatalities, though Minister of Interior Nashrat Rahimi confirmed at least two of the attackers were killed by Afghan government forces as they entered to take back the building.

This mounting violence has occurred directly before the Sept. 28 national elections, which the Taliban openly oppose. Following the first suicide bombing on Sept. 17, the insurgent group made a statement saying “we already warned people not to attend election rallies, if they suffer any losses that is their own responsibility.” They have threatened to disrupt the election process further and have released a warning against using schools and community buildings as election centers, as well as having students and teachers working at election centers, saying they “do not want to cause the loss of lives and financial losses for civilians, teachers and students.” Despite the recent attacks and threats, a spokesperson for the Afghan election commission said the government is “committed to holding elections on the announced date, and such threats from the Taliban cannot prevent us from holding them.”

The Taliban attacks occur mere weeks after the Trump administration ended peace talks for the 18-year conflict with the Taliban on Saturday, Sept. 7, following the death of an American soldier. If elections are to proceed, it will be the fourth nation-wide election since the US ousted the Taliban government in 2001. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reports that as of Sept. 18 there are 9.6 million Afghan citizens have registered to vote, but some estimates suggest that as many as one in twelve of the election centers may be closed due to security threats.

Writing Center Changes Location, Receives Renovation

Previously tucked away in the annex of the Hilda C. Landers Library at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), the Writing and Speaking Center has been a hidden gem which provides SMCM students with valuable writing and communication skills. The center itself has been around since the 1980s, however, it has only taken its current form in the recent years under the direction of Professor Ben Click.

In order to ensure that its features are up to date and relevant to provide students with the best help possible, the Writing Center has been undergoing construction over the summer and into the early part of the 2019-2020 school year. Most notably, the Center will be moving onto the main floor of the library where it can be seen more easily, making students more aware of its presence. Amanda Taylor, the Assistant Director of the Writing and Speaking Center, has been involved with the program since the beginning of the 2013 school year. “All of these changes will facilitate student comfort and engagement with our services,” remarked Taylor, “but they will also make it easier for the peer tutors who work at the Center to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.”

India Oates (‘21) has been working as a peer tutor at the Writing Center for a year. She explained that she decided to apply to become a peer tutor because she thought that it would be a great opportunity to both better herself as a writer and provide help to her peers. “Academics have always been my strong suit,” Oates stated, “so I have fun when I put my skills to use.”

The most prominent update to the Writing and Speaking Center is the location change, as it will be relocated from the annex of the library to the main floor of the library. This location change will allow the directors and peer tutors of the Writing and Speaking Center more space in which to work, as well as make the environment more welcoming and comfortable for students who stop in for their scheduled appointments. 

Taylor also mentioned that one of the tutoring rooms will be larger in order to better accommodate large groups that come in for tutorials. Taylor went on to explain that the new location will make it easier for students and peer tutors to concentrate, since the Center will now be located on an exterior wall away from high-traffic areas of the library. Also, since the annex was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, it made it difficult to ensure that peer tutors and students would be able to find appropriate space for sessions. Taylor stated that “because the new space will be used only by the Center, [the directors and peer tutors] can now outfit it accordingly.”

The new and improved Writing and Speaking Center will be opened on Monday, Sept. 23. The new location will make for less distractions, which will ensure that students get the best out of their time with the tutors. Hopefully, the new location will allow it to be more accessible to students and remind them to utilize this resource on campus. Oates remarked, “[The peer tutors] are truly here for you; you have nothing to lose and everything to gain because even the best writers can improve their writing skills.” 

Annual Involvement Fair Kicks Off Fall Semester at Campus Center

To promote and spread awareness of clubs available at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), the Student Government Association (SGA), Office of Student Activities (OSA), and the Programs Board hosted an Involvement Fair on the Campus Center Patio on Saturday, Sept. 7. Consisting of a diverse array of clubs that range from the politically minded College Republicans and College Democrats to the artistic Avatar and Dance Clubs, there were clubs suited for many interests.

Students milled excitedly around the patio, periodically stopping when interested to talk to a representative stationed at their club’s table and potentially sign up if so inclined. The mood was set for all of this by SMCM’s resident saxophone guy, sophomore Tyler Wilson (‘22). Some of the clubs are more familiar, veterans of many Involvement Fairs, while others made their debut. According to the OSA clubs and organizations webpage, “Student Activities supports the work of approximately 100 student clubs and organizations. Each week, clubs meet and host events all across campus and perform service within our community. All clubs are recognized and funded through the Student Government Association.”

Kayla Sherfey, (‘22) a member of the SMCM’s women’s a cappella group The Nightingale A Capella (TNA) was impressed with the fair’s turnout, saying “I was pleasantly surprised with how many people and clubs were there. It was great because it gave TNA the opportunity to talk to a lot of interested people before auditions.” Auditions to join TNA for this semester were Thursday Sept. 12, but keep an eye out for spring semester auditions.

One club exhibited at this year’s Involvement Fair was Knits for the Needy (KFN). Members of KFN can learn to knit or crochet, and donate the results to organizations that serve the community such as men and women’s shelters or the local police department. In previous years, the club has even knitted or crocheted beds and other items for local animal shelters.

Gretchen Young (‘22), a member of KFN who represented the club at its table said of the experience, “There were a lot of people there, and it was nice that it was outside because it allowed space for more people. Our club got a lot more signups than we had expected, which was great.”

A new club represented at this year’s fair was Softball Club, started by juniors Genevieve Otero and Samantha Gallo. On the founding of the club, Otero said, “Me and Sammie started the club because we both have great memories from high school playing on a team and we’re both casual players so we are really just about starting something fun and sharing that opportunity with others.”

For students who missed the Involvement Fair but are still interested in joining a club, there is still time to get involved. Clubs are almost always eager to have new members and many will accept them at any time. A full list of SMCM clubs as well as an event calendar for all clubs will be made available soon on the OSA website, and announcements for club meetings will be made on InsideSMCM.