Pacific faces ‘constant state of recovery’ from disasters– Forum SG to International Conference on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure 

Keynote Address by Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum
International Conference on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (ICDRI 2021)

Session: “The Regional Forum for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific
18 March 2021, 10.00 – 11.15 IST (4.30 – 5.45pm Fiji time).

Your Excellencies;
Distinguished panellists; and
Ladies and gentlemen.

Good afternoon from Suva and thank you for the opportunity to address this virtual conference on a topic that is pertinent to Small Island Developing States across the Pacific.

2. Small Island Developing States face unique vulnerabilities and most especially here in the Pacific. We are now faced with a three-pronged crisis – the crippling impact of COVID-19, the devasting effects of climate change and disasters, and the fragile economic wellbeing of our region which has been exacerbated by the current pandemic.

Context of the Blue Pacific’s Resilient Development agenda

3. At the core of the Blue Pacific’s resilient development agenda is the fundamental need to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of our people, communities, and infrastructure to risks emanating from climate change, natural hazards as well as health epidemics and pandemics.
4. While this is our aim, our countries are constantly faced with cascading risks, occurring in parallel, such as the recent experience by Pacific Island Countries in responding concurrently to COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclones Yasa, Ana and Harold. This often puts significant pressure on public systems of small administrations and the role of government to manage the economic impacts from those risks.

5. Pacific Islands Forum Leaders have recognised climate change as the single greatest threat to our Blue Pacific region. Each year, more frequent and severe cyclones, floods, and king tides bear down on the Pacific, wreaking devastation and winding back years of development gains. Disaster-related economic losses are higher in the Pacific Islands than almost anywhere else in the world.

6. Indeed, four category-5 cyclones have hit our region since 2015, and just this year, three cyclones have already wreaked havoc in Fiji. Cyclone Pam in 2015 caused damages equivalent to 64 percent of Vanuatu’s GDP. In 2016, Cyclone Winston wreaked havoc in Fiji with damages totalling to 31 percent of GDP. In 2018, Cyclone Gita caused destruction in Tonga equivalent to 38 percent of GDP. These are just a few examples of how climate-exacerbated disasters can wipe out decades of development gain, in a matter of hours.

12. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Pacific is faced with a ‘constant state of recovery’ from disaster-related destruction to public and private infrastructure. This has exacerbated the debt burden on Pacific Island governments which has further worsened due to COVID-19.

Regional commitment to Action

13. Despite these challenges, our Pacific Leaders continue to be pro-active in the global fight against climate change, following their strongest ever climate change declaration in 2019 – the Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Change Action Now. This declaration calls for climate-smart development towards achieving 1.5 degrees by the end of this century, essential to safeguarding the future of our Blue Pacific continent.
14. Globally, our region is the first to have adopted a regionally integrated approach to resilience through the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP) – which seeks to enhance resilience to climate change and disasters, promote low-carbon development, and strengthen disaster preparedness, response and recovery. The Pacific Resilience Partnership brings together government, private sector, civil society and development partners to realise the goals of the FRDP.

15. A valuable lesson learnt from the onset and ensuing impacts of COVID-19 is that our world is inter-connected and the impacts of transboundary issues are unavoidable. This year 2021 will no doubt test our Blue Pacific’s resilience. What more can we do to remain resilient in the face of multiple threats that we are forced to contend with?

16. This is an opportunity for our region and for the world at large to consider climate-smart response and recovery measures. Over the months and years to come, economies will recover. This is a chance for nations to plan and build back better, to include the most vulnerable in those plans, and to shape 21st century economies and societies in ways that are healthy, clean, safe and more resilient while also focusing on the overall well-being of our human condition.

The challenges and opportunities in PICs for incorporating resilient infrastructure systems in their development agenda

17. Let me turn to the challenges and opportunities in Pacific Island Countries in incorporating resilient infrastructure systems in their development agenda.

18. Many of our Members already recognise the importance of integrating resilient infrastructure systems in their development agenda. This is reflected in their national development plans, strategies, infrastructure investment plans or country program pipelines to global funds such as the Green Climate Fund.

19. Your Excellencies, I let me share with you three key points on how we can better respond to the infrastructure needs of SIDS:

i. A key challenge that we have observed in the Pacific in the implementation of infrastructure projects is the lack of close coordination between line ministry leads on infrastructure projects and national planning focal points. With this, it would ensure the sustainability of infrastructure projects and the budgeting of any subsequent maintenance costs that may arise, without placing undue stress on the national budget processes.

In Tuvalu, the Government has recently established a “Special Infrastructure Fund” that is currently 100% domestically funded. However, there is an intention that donors can contribute up to 10% of the value of future Infrastructure investment projects for ongoing maintenance cost. Donor support for such initiatives is critical.

The approach in Kiribati with the South Tarawa Road Rehabilitation project which was supported by the World Bank, ADB and the Government of Australia and includes climate proofing with the intent for no maintenance costs over the next 30 years.

ii. Secondly, during disaster events both public and private infrastructure are damaged. While there is momentum in climate proofing public infrastructure, support for building resilient private infrastructure, including residential homes, remains limited.

This is due, in part, to the lack of appropriate building codes and affordable insurance options because of the associated costs.
Both government and development partners can have a role in subsidising costs to ensure the resilience of private infrastructure; and,

iii. Thirdly, we in the Pacific need to transform our development model so that we are not always dependent on external support. We need to be more innovative in finding sustainable solutions to our challenges. An examples of this is the work progressed on the Pacific Resilience Facility, a unique forward-looking Pacific owned and led initiative aimed at mobilising up to $1.5 billion to allow the region to invest in upfront low-quantum and high impact small-scale community-level resilience building and disaster preparedness infrastructure projects. A global pledging conference is planned for the second half of 2021 and any support from the private sector and the international community is welcome.

Way Forward

20. Ladies and gentlemen, the climate change and disaster crises are cross-cutting – both require a holistic and whole-of-government approach. They are crises that also require governments to reach out to civil society and the private sector as integrated innovative solutions are needed.

21. For Pacific Island countries, this is an opportune time to prioritise risk-informed and risk-considered development planning. This will enable our infrastructure systems and facilities to withstand unforeseen pressure from the impacts of climate change and disasters, including pandemics such as COVID-19.

22. Infrastructure development that supports ‘building back better’ will be a key part of the second phase of COVID-19 recovery efforts for Pacific countries to help stimulate their economies and get people back to work. Countries must prioritise infrastructure planning and investments with high economic returns, short pay-back and strong multiplier effects.

23. In closing, allow me to reaffirm two points – firstly, innovative solutions within our region should be encouraged and supported and secondly, sustainable and genuine partnerships are needed to enable a resilient pathway for infrastructure development in Pacific Small Island Developing States. I look forward to the support of all Development Partners in making this a reality in our Blue Pacific region.

I thank you.


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