Many Fijian families have had a rough start to the new year as – just two days after the Christmas holiday – Tropical Cyclone Sarai swept across the country, flooding roadways, knocking out power and severing critical services. Our utility workers immediately jumped into action and are hard at work restoring services as I speak.
Right now, my total focus is on the Fijians who – through no fault on their own – are recovering from yet another bout of severe weather. We will get services back online, and we will continue to invest in more resilient infrastructure, construct seawalls, plant mangroves and implement other adaptive measures. While these projects take time and vast resources, they are worth every dollar and every ounce of effort we can give them.
Since 2016, cyclones Winston, Keni, Josie, Gita – and now, Sarai – have impacted Fijian communities. We were spared a devastating hit from Sarai, otherwise the destruction would have been far more severe.
While cyclones have always been a part of life in Fiji, the frequency of extreme weather is a ruthless reminder of Fiji’s high vulnerabilities to climate impacts. The increasing frequency and intensity of these storms is one reason why Fiji has been ranked as one of the ten countries in the world most affected by climate change.
This stark reality is why Fiji fights unapologetically in the international arena to push high-emitting countries to combat climate change. We cannot allow headlines telling of storms wreaking havoc in our region to become routine. We cannot – we will not – allow the world to become numb to what we are experiencing.
If the global community does not act to decisively cut emissions, these storms will only become more severe in the years ahead. That would be an unacceptable reality for Fiji, our neighbouring Pacific Island countries, and every other nation and people on earth. Because while Sarai has been an emergency for Fiji, climate change is an existential crisis for the entire world.
I want every Fijian to know that I will never stop fighting to protect our wellbeing and our progress from the increasing frequency and intensity of these storms. We will build our resilience, we will support you in recovering and rebuilding, we will make the special effort to protect our children, the elderly and those living with disabilities, least their vulnerabilities be worsened by climate impacts.
My fellow Fijians, when the clock struck midnight on 31 December, Fiji welcomed more than a new year. We entered a new decade – bigger still – a new half-century, as 2020 marks 50 years in our onward march as an independent nation.
The past 50 years of our history have proved that we are a resilient people. Together, we will prove ourselves to be far stronger than Sarai. Then, we will make the coming year one of our greatest ever, through our “Fiji 50” celebrations that will touch the hearts of every Fijian, from across our islands to throughout our diaspora community.
Soon, we’ll have some big announcements to make about the year ahead. But right now, my government is focussed on restoring the services our people need and putting Sarai behind us.
Happy New Year and God Bless Fiji!