Forum Foreign Ministers Joint Statement on Blue Pacific Leadership in Disaster Preparedness Planning
29 November 2021
We, the Forum Foreign Ministers, remain deeply concerned by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis facing Pacific Island Countries.
We express our deepest concern and condolences to Pacific Island Forum Members and all countries that either now, or previously, have endured trauma and loss of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We acknowledge the disproportionate effect the pandemic is having on women and girls, in all their diversity, everywhere. At the same time, we recognise climate change as the single greatest threat to our Blue Pacific region.
As Forum Foreign Ministers, and as one Blue Pacific Continent, we are committed to learning lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic that are both regionally and culturally applicable. Re-calling our Joint Statement of 17th July 2020 on a Blue Pacific Response to COVID-19, as well as the Biketawa Declaration, the Boe Declaration on Regional Security, the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific, and the Regional Strategic Roadmap for Emergency Management, we call for improved disaster preparedness planning across all sectors and at the national, regional and international level through multi-stakeholder partnerships and guided by our upcoming 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.
In the face of COVID-19, Pacific Island Forum members invoked the Biketawa Declaration – our regional framework to collectively respond to and aid one another during times of crisis. This facilitated the establishment of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 (PHP-C), which has assisted with regional logistics during the pandemic.
Despite this, the majority of Forum Members, and, indeed, many countries in the world, were unprepared and did not have detailed pandemic emergency management plans and arrangements in place when COVID-19 took hold. Furthermore, no regional pandemic emergency management plan was available at the time.
Recognising the importance of the interdependent and communal lifestyles in many Pacific Island nations, and the principles of being a good neighbour and sharing responsibility, as captured in the Tuvaluan concepts of fale-pili and kaitasi and similar concepts throughout the Pacific, we advocate for the importance of pandemic emergency management plans, and all forms of disaster preparedness, to promote national and regional wellbeing. This commitment reflects our cultural values of interdependence and of always being prepared and well protected.
In keeping with the culture and values of the Pacific region, the Biketawa Declaration holds that “in time of crisis … action [should] be taken on the basis of all members of the Forum being part of the Pacific Islands extended family.” The Boe Declaration, which builds on the commitments and principles agreed on at Biketawa, further provides for an expanded concept of Pacific security, including references to health and the need to develop both national security strategies and capacity and regional security architecture. This is indicative of the necessity for enhanced pandemic and disaster planning that reflects the unique conceptions of security in our region.
Consequently, we are committed to developing national disaster preparedness plans that are inclusive and guided by existing national and regional policies to ensure every country is prepared and protected in the event of pandemics or other disasters. This may entail ensuring strong public finance management systems are in place; guaranteeing appropriate human resources and training are available for all types of disaster scenarios; providing effective consideration of airfield access for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations; developing natural resource management to enhance food security; and assuring that stockpiles of, and distribution plans for, medicine, food, water, and other goods tailored to each disaster scenario are always at the ready. Through national disaster preparedness, we can ensure all nations are secure and that disruptions to education and other services are minimised in the event of lock down or physical separation from other countries or organisations that normally provide support.
Within our existing regional and national policy context, we see the necessity, once the COVID-19 pandemic has abated, of undertaking inter-country exercises to test disaster preparedness arrangements and plans. This will ensure that the entire Blue Pacific region is prepared and well looked after in the case of disaster at the sub-regional, regional or international level and that the hazard response plans of each nation can be effectively and efficiently implemented. Conducting joint exercises to guarantee security against health-related and other disasters is key to developing a Pacific region where responsibility is truly shared among nations to fulfil our cultural priorities of united and consensus-driven responses to regional issues.
To assist with regional disaster preparedness, we encourage development partners to provide financing and assistance to strengthen regional disaster preparedness and resilience-building efforts. This would include advocating to donors and development partners to solicit their support for the Pacific Resilience Facility as well as to strengthen existing mechanisms for preparedness training for Forum Island Countries. Enhanced pre-pandemic and disaster preparation would provide nations throughout the Pacific region with greater opportunities to learn from, and develop, resilience against a range of disasters before they occur. These nations would then also have greater flexibility to host joint-country exercises, workshops, and other forums so that regional experience sharing and preparedness can flourish.
Broadly, our approach to improved disaster preparedness planning will (i) respect the sovereignty of individual nations; (ii) respect the cultural values of individual countries and the entire Pacific region covering human rights, gender equality and social protection; (iii) promote shared regional responsibility in recognition of the Pacific as a deeply interconnected family of nations; and (iv) ensure the inclusion of the interests of different groups including women, men, girls and boys, the elderly, persons with disability and other disadvantaged groups.
It is only through these methods that we can overcome the threats of climate change, pandemics and other disasters in a truly Pacific way and ensure that lessons learned from COVID-19 feed into our security strategies moving forward. We are in a new era of disaster risk management facing complex and systemic challenges, grappling with the health, economic and social shocks of COVID-19, on top of climate change and conflict related challenges. We need to broaden our focus from managing emergencies to managing disaster risks, from thinking about individual hazards, to thinking about interdependent systems.
In emerging from this pandemic more unified, safe, inclusive and resilient, as one Blue Pacific and one Blue Planet, we must be forward looking, preparing in advance to ensure that, in all scenarios, the region and its constituent nations are never isolated, unprepared, or without a firm plan of action.
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