SG opening remarks, Conference on Internal Displacement

Address by Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Conference on Internal Displacement due to Natural Disasters and Climate Change
Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Suva, 3 May 2011

Excellencies, The Dean/Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Representatives of Forum Governments, UN Organisations

Representatives of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and the Brookings-LSE Project

Members of the Pacific Civil Society Organisations

On behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat I welcome you all to this Conference on Internal Displacement due to Natural Disasters and Climate Change.

I want to thank the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement for the initiatives for this gathering.

This Conference is of particular importance in its timing and focus, given the exposure and widely- acknowledged vulnerability of Forum island countries to natural disasters and to the impacts of climate change. Natural disasters in all forms occur frequently and indiscriminately in all parts of the Pacific, and the dangers of climate change are being manifested and experienced by communities, daily and with increasing intensity and seriousness.

In recent times, this region has taken a major disaster toll, major by any standard, especially with the unprecedented tsunami waves in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga in 2009, another horrific tsunami in the Solomon Islands in 2007 and the volcano eruption in Papua New Guinea in 2004.

These major disaster events have been studied by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and we look forward to the launching during this session of a discussion paper prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner on the subject of “Protecting the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Natural Disasters: Challenges in the Pacific” - a discussion paper which I’m sure will establish an informed basis for the work of this Conference.

Natural disasters affect all communities directly and in the most serious of ways; and the damaging effects of climate change are already evident and widespread in all Pacific countries. But, it is the poor and the weak, amongst them women and children, and persons with disabilities, who are the most vulnerable and least able to respond or to protect themselves, and therefore the ones who suffer disproportionately.

These are the people who need assistance the most, and those of us who work within the humanitarian community, and in the policy and environmental communities will have to understand more clearly the need to integrate humanitarian and human rights considerations to ensure the provision of effective care for victims, before, during and after the occurrence of natural disasters and climate related events.

Disaster management strategies need to incorporate rights based approaches to disaster responses, because we know from the experience of the recent tsunamis, for instance, that some of the difficult challenges encountered related to basic human provisions, including the availability and access to health services, to shelter and housing, clean water, education and compensation and restitution, as well as issues relating to land and property rights. Also, as I think the paper from the Office of the High Commissioner indicates, any disaster response would need to ensure respect for human rights and to guard against discrimination in the exercise of such rights.

There are clear implications for human security in the face of climate change. There will be degradation and depletion of natural resources as changes in weather patterns reduce growing seasons and agricultural outputs, as increased desertification and rising sea-levels diminish viable agricultural land; and, as increasingly more severe environmental disasters register devastating effects on local livelihoods, it is more likely that competition will increase for fewer and fewer resources, with even greater likelihood for disputes and violence. So, indeed, climate change has real potential to become a “threat multiplier”, by exacerbating and compounding the effects of other local and global problems.

In their Call to Action in 2009 Forum Leaders declared climate change the great challenge of our time, for it threatens not only livelihoods and living standards, but the very viability of some Pacific communities. Though the role of Pacific island States in the causes of global climate change is miniscule, the impact on them is great; and the security of communities and the health of populations will be placed in greater jeopardy. More ominously, some Pacific habitats and island states face obliteration.

These are the aspects that lend particular significance to this Conference, and I for one much look forward to the exchange of information and discussions that will be generated.

It is important that Forum governments and the local authorities of Pacific countries accept the core responsibility for addressing and finding effective and well-coordinated solutions to internal displacements in line with international standards and, perhaps more importantly, to ensure adequate resources and feasible avenues for the raising of needed resources in the event of disasters. Building on previous experiences of internal displacement cases ensures, in part that needed response mechanisms are in place, and in part also to ensure that the response will be informed and not doomed by the errors and omissions of the past.

But, with everything else in our complicated world, the required tasks will not always be easy. Achieving durable solutions to manage displacement will require planning, capacity-building, resource management and mobilising Governments to take action – action which should be fashioned by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provided by the United Nations, focusing on the specific needs, and on the rights, of internally displaced persons.

For those of you attracted to words and theirs meanings, including the lawyers amongst you, there will be temptation to be concerned with definitions. Fascinating as that would be, allow me in advance to draw attention to the rather limited amount of time that we have for this one day, and perhaps also to remind that many others attracted by the definitional debates around the world have not found final answers.

With these words, and once more, welcome to you all.

Thank you.



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