Fijians have been strongly urged to be prepared as storms are expected to become more severe due to the intensifying impacts of climate change.
Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and Disaster Management Hon. Inia Seruiratu highlighted this while officiating at the opening of the National Disaster Awareness Week in Ba yesterday.
Minister Seruiratu said we have just over one week left before the start of the cyclone season and we all know what that means for Fiji.
He said since 2010, nine cyclones have struck our islands, levelling homes, claiming lives, and flooding arable farmland with total damage and loss recorded at FJ$2.42 billion, representing 1.25% of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product between 2010 and 2020.
“The Housing sector has sustained the most damages of $875 million, followed by the education sector at $789 million and the agriculture sector with $677 million respectively. Due to the intensifying impacts of climate change, we can only expect these storms will become more severe. So, we must be prepared,” Hon. Seruiratu said.
“That is what this week is all about. The launch of National Disaster Awareness Week is our solemn reminder of the duty of care we hold to ourselves and our communities. It is our opportunity to reflect on the lessons of past tragedy, and prepare our nation for the future storms brewing beyond the horizon.”
Minister Seruiratu revealed that between 2007 and 2019, a total of 64 deaths were recorded that were cyclone related. Of these, 26 were drowning related incidents. He said 17 of these were drowning victims reported in the Western Division.
“These numbers are alarming, and we need to work together to ensure the numbers don’t rise. Drowning is well within our control to avoid, life is precious as it doesn’t come twice, don’t risk your life or your families by crossing any flooded river or walkway, let alone, please refrain from swimming in this flooded areas.”
Hon. Seruiratu also highlighted Fiji was helping flip the narrative around working with vulnerable communities. He said too often, such work was portrayed as a one-way effort, with vulnerable communities being the only ones who benefitted. But good governance, he added recognised that risk management was a two-way exchange.
“It recognises that the blend of local knowledge and international expertise achieves the highest possible level of resilience. Good governance promotes the need to pool resources together so that our vulnerable or poor communities are not marginalised. It leaves no room to leave anyone behind. Instead, it ensures we are all held accountable to each other. The central tenet of good governance is the principle of ensuring that the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable are heard in decision making.”
“Let’s not forget what is at stake here. Building resilience is a matter of life or death for Fiji, and it is the only way we remain on course towards any of the sustainable development goals. We cannot make progress as a country if everything we build is wiped away every time a disaster strikes. We cannot free our people from poverty, we cannot uproot inequality, we cannot build a digitally-driven society, nor can we uphold our food security if our people live under constant threat from devastating disasters. That’s just the hard truth.”
But this will not be our future, Hon. Seruiratu said. “We will build communities that are prepared for even the most severe disasters. We will maintain our pace of development, even in the face of a changing climate. We will save lives. We will work with our people, we will use their knowledge and combine it with the best information and technology the world can give us, and we will build a resilient Fiji.”
He has also assured Fijians that Government, through the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) was committed to safeguarding Fijian lives and Fijian progress.
Speaking during the launch, United Nations Resident Coordinator Mr. Sanaka Samarasinha said seeing all arms of Government coming together was fundamental for better governance in terms of preparing for disasters and responding to disasters. He also urged those gathered in Ba to go out and urge others to be prepared.
Meanwhile, yesterday Minister for Health and Medical Services Hon. Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete also launched the Ministry’s Leptospirosis, Typhoid, Dengue and Diarrhoea (LTDD) campaign ahead of the upcoming cyclone season.