Your Excellency, The Ambassador of Japan;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
It’s my pleasure to be here this morning as Fiji takes the lead in our region by launching our Disaster Risk Reduction Policy.
I was on the ground in communities on the frontlines of Cyclone Winston’s record-breaking ferocity in 2016. In the worst-affected areas, there wasn’t a tree left standing or a building left undestroyed. In total, that disaster claimed the lives of 44 of our people, levelled tens of thousands of homes and hundreds of schools, affecting over 500,000 Fijians.
Two years later, in a span of three months, our nation was ravaged by the back-to-back impacts of cyclones, Josie, Keni and Gita. We saw massive flooding, more lives lost, and serious setbacks in the nationwide rebuild underway following Winston.
While scientists were sounding the alarm on how climate change was fuelling more frequent and severe cyclones, Fijians were suffering from that reality first-hand.
Whether I was on Koro Island, or in flooded communities across our Western Division, I knew then what I know now: We – as a nation—must do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves, our children and our progress from these worsening storms.
For Fiji, climate-related disasters are national security threat number one. Monday night, I returned from Madrid, Spain where I was representing Fiji at the 25th round of the UN climate change negotiations, COP25. Our mission in Madrid was to secure greater global commitments ahead of Paris Agreement’s implementation in 2020. While the science tells us the window of opportunity to save ourselves is fast-closing, the largest emitters have yet to summon the courage to act decisively on this issue. But there was one glimmer of hope at this COP. After many intense rounds of negotiations, Fiji helped secure recognition of the oceans role in managing the climate, a critical first step to engraining ocean preservation into the larger climate action campaign.
However, many nations still needlessly stalled in cutting emissions, making 2020 the most important year ever for climate action. Throughout the year ahead, Fiji will be putting the pressure on every world leader – in government and business alike—to make the necessary cuts in emissions to spare our world from the worst of climate impacts.
But we cannot wait on the world to save us; we must act to save ourselves in every way possible. This policy document lays out our game plan to shield our people, communities and economy from preventable devastation.
In pursuing this policy, we’re driven by more than a moral imperative. By managing disaster risks, we’re protecting our progress across every front of development. We’re protecting the massive investments we’ve made in health, education and the extension of critical services. We’re protecting the businesses that are steadily growing across the country. We’re protecting our roads, our bridges and other infrastructure. And we’re protecting lives, plain and simple.
This document provides the policy and legal framework that supports how we fund, manage and integrate disaster risk management across every level of governance. It covers our preparedness before storms, to immediate emergency responses, to the nationwide effort to rebuild to cyclone-resilient standards.
But that job is too big for Government alone. Every person, every business, and every organisation must play a role in preparing for worsening disasters. Importantly, this policy covers how we build public awareness of how to plan for emergencies and what to do when disaster strikes.
This policy is one part of a wide-reaching national agenda to dramatically improve our resilience to climate impacts of all scales. We’re building seawalls, evacuation centres and early warning systems; relocating communities, planting mangroves and boosting our agro-resilience.
We’ve signed a landmark agreement with the International Finance Corporation to eventually enable families and farmers to access insurance payouts in the event of a severe cyclone. And Fiji is the leading voice on the world stage in advocating for greater finance and financing mechanisms to fund the life-saving work of climate adaptation. All of this work is dedicated to a singular purpose: Saving lives and saving us the costs of rebuilding, year after year, cyclone season after cyclone season.
I can’t imagine a better partner for this launch than the Japanese Government. Japan has proven itself to be one of the world’s most disaster-resilient economies. Your knowledge and experiences are invaluable and we appreciate the expertise you provided in formulating this policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now one month into the 2019-2020 cyclone season.
I’d like to take this opportunity to make a larger appeal to the nation: Please, treat storm warnings with total sincerity. Listen to authorities and undertake all preparatory works possible ahead of a storm’s arrival. Lives depend on your actions. So, do not hesitate.
In the months following Winton’s devastation in Fiji, I remember the rallying cry that brought comfort and courage to our people, “Stronger than Winston”.
It was a refrain that spoke to the Fijian spirit of resilience and resolve in re-claiming what was lost to that storm.
By launching this policy, we are once again proving our resilience and our willingness to act in the face of great adversity. By adhering to the mandates of this policy, let us prove ourselves stronger than the storms yet to come.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.