Two-year anniversary of the Pacific Humanitarian Air Service (PHAS)
Grand Pacific Hotel – Suva on Wednesday, 19th October 2022
Opening Remarks by Pacific Islands Forum
delivered by OIC, Director Operations, Apaitia Veiogo
Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Senior UN Officials; Esteemed Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen
· Good evening and thank you kindly for the introduction.
· It’s my pleasure and indeed honoured to be here tonight for this important event.
· I convey the well wishes of our Secretary General, Henry Puna, who is unable to be here with us as he is currently on duty travel overseas.
· I am Apaitia Veiogo, currently Officer in Charge at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
It’s a pleasure to be here with you all tonight, to celebrate a successful two years of humanitarian assistance provided by WFP to the peoples of the Bule Pacific Continent.
· While all is calm and peaceful here tonight, at least at this early hour, when we were discussing the establishment of the Air Service two years ago, that wasn’t the case.
· Indeed, I’m pleased to be here tonight as I see this as a great opportunity for us all to reflect on where this initiative started.
· Remembering back to the early months of 2020, across the region we were faced with great uncertainty.
· We didn’t know much about this virus. We knew very little about face masks, booster shots, pre-departure declarations, variants, lockdowns and hand sanitisers.
· It was all new to us, and across the region, people were anxious.
· When countries started announcing border closures, that anxiety, in some instances, grew.
· We didn’t know when, or if, we would see our loved ones again. We didn’t know if we would run out of supplies, medicines, foods, medical equipment, and yes- toilet paper.
· Yet among all that uncertainty, at that time of great anxiety, our Forum Members knew that they could look to each other for support.
· Fortunately, thanks to the vision of our forebears, we had a pre-agreed set of procedures in place, by way of the 2000 Biketawa Declaration, which guided the way we could work together in times of crisis.
· In February 2020, as Pacific Borders began closing down, the Joint Incident Management Team (JIMT), leading the coordination of the regional response to COVID-19, reached out to the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat for a political solution to assist with the movement of health and humanitarian personnel and supplies into and across the region.
· In April 2020, Forum Leaders invoked the Biketawa Declaration and established the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19.
· The PHP-C, as it came to be known, provided the enabling political environment and commitment to expedite assistance and cooperation between member countries in preparing for and responding to COVID-19.
· We would have all seen reading through the information sheets provided this evening that we had all done incredibly well in providing the necessary support to Members in their preparedness and response to COVID-19.
· The PHP-C was successful because we had a common political will, there was clear articulation of the system of interest, we had a common vision and common goals, and we had the right partnering approach and that partners were optimal.
· The Pacific Humanitarian Air Services, services by the World Food Program, was an essential partner in this effort.
· So essential that I can confidently say that the PHP-C would not have had the same level of success without the excellent support of our colleagues, and hosts for this evening’s celebrations, the World Food Programme.
· To date, the Pacific Humanitarian Air Service has operated 41 flights to 14 destinations across the Pacific and transporting more than 300 metric tons or 2,200 cubic metres of humanitarian cargo including PPE, medicines, oxygen concentrators, and 77 passengers on technical missions, repatriation, or medical evacuation.
· I would like to pass on our sincere gratitude and vinaka vakalevu to the WFP for your unwavering support during this very difficult time.
· I would also like to extend our gratitude to the Air Service funding partners- the Australian Government, the European Union, and the United States Government.
· Your support made a very difficult time less challenging. The health and humanitarian supplies that the Air Service delivered have undoubtedly saved lives. The technical experts that you brought to the region have assisted Forum Members in countless ways.
· You helped our region in the darkest of hours, and for that, we say a sincere Vinaka vaka levu, malo aupito, thank you.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY