Delivered by the Acting Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dr Filimon Manoni
03 May 2022
Ladies and Gentlemen.
A very good morning and greetings to all of you. Allow me at the outset to welcome you to this inaugural Pacific Regional Symposium on Disaster Risk Financing. It is great to see some of you, especially the Suva based participants, able to join in person at the Grand Pacific Hotel, in Suva for face-to-face discussions. It is a sure sign that we are slowly starting to return to some sort of normalcy despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in the Pacific.
To our fellow member country participants joining online and especially from our Pacific neighbours that are experiencing the worse of the pandemic, I say to you please do not despair. The worse will soon pass and together we can overcome these challenges. Fiji has shown the way and it is an example of how we, as resilient Pacific nations and people, can come out of this together.
Now let me turn to the topic of this symposium over the next two days. Each year, severe cyclones bear down on the Pacific. In 2020 alone, the cost of damage from cyclones that wreaked havoc in the Pacific was more than 1 billion US dollars. The sad reality is these disasters are getting more frequent and with greater devastation that could reverse decades of development gain. Our sea levels are also rising and directly threatening the security of our Blue Pacific Continent. We continue to endure the climate change crisis and at its heart are our people. Our homes are threatened, our livelihoods destroyed. Communities are suffering.
Too often, we see countries scramble to deal with disasters when they do hit. Too often we wait for the response from our neighbours and the international community.
For Small Islands States with limited economic bases, like we have in the Pacific, it often also means reallocating limited resources from approved budgets, it means drawing on limited national contingency funds and, in some instances, getting into debt by borrowing. This is exacerbated with the constant state of recovery, coupled with the prolonged impacts of the pandemic, which did not allow much breathing space for national fiscal systems.
No doubt there are numerous financial products and opportunities now available that our Member countries can access for assistance in times of disasters. But these come with specific conditions and access procedures that countries need to be aware of. Some of these mechanisms either require paying something upfront, as in insurance premiums or forgoing something as in the countries IDA (pronounced “aeda”) allocations for Catastrophe drawdown options.
While there are several disaster risk financing options available, most are only triggered after a catastrophic event, and focuses on post-disaster response, relief and recovery.
Indeed, all these Disaster Risk Financing modalities do have their place and their uses, but we must ensure first that our Member countries can have access to them, that they are affordable and that they are fit-for-purpose.
On this note, I am encouraged to see the positive spirit by our partners present in this symposium to support a coordinated and coherent approach towards building the capacity of our Member countries to access the available opportunities.
To our Members, it will require us to be strategic in our choices of disaster risk financing but most of all we must be prepared ahead of the disasters and not wait till a cyclone or a tsunami is upon us. Hence the need to put in place Disaster Risk Financing Strategies, aligned to the countries specific risk profiles and needs.
This is also the rationale and the driving force behind the Framework for Resilience Development in the Pacific (FRDP). This provides a strategic framework that will guide how we invest in our region for a resilient future. DRF and indeed financing for resilience development is an important consideration amongst all the competing development needs but we must not loose sight of the impacts of climate and disaster risks have on our region.
I understand that this symposium was organized under the umbrella of the DRF Technical working Group, established under the Governing mechanism for the FRDP, the Pacific Resilience Partnership, that was endorsed by the Forum Economic Ministers last year to be an advisory body to the FEMM on Disaster Risk Financing related issues.
Going beyond the FRDP, our Leaders endorsed the establishment of the Pacific Resilience Facility to provide small grants to vulnerable communities to build resilience and preparedness prior to a disaster event. We will convene a global pledging event later this year, in partnership with the Office of the UN Secretary General, and we invite our partners and donors to join us on this exciting initiative.
Research shows that $1 dollar invested in resilience-building and preparedness saves $7 on post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation costs. We in the Pacific do not want to stand by and wait for the next disaster. We want to be able to prepare.
I hope that your deliberations over the next two days will set the tone for ongoing discussions on establishing a regional framework for DRF Strategies, that member countries can use as a guide for formulating their own National DRF Strategies. I believe that such a Framework can complement the Pacific Resilience Standards (PRS), a product of the PIFS-PREP project funded by the World Bank.
In closing, I want to leave you with, what for me is a sad but true reality for our Member countries and for all of us here in the Pacific. In listening to the recent partners-roundtable meeting organised by the Government of Tonga following the recent volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami, where the Government of Tonga laid out their post-disaster recovery plan, the Secretary to the Government of Tonga concluded by saying “and that is our plan until the next disaster hits.” The challenge for each of us is how can we work collectively to support the implementation of such national plans? It will not be easy, but we must not relent, as we are in this together. And together we will come out as a more resilient and sustainable region.
I thank you.