Delivered by the Acting Director of Policy at the Pacific Islands Forum, Joel Nilon
at the Fiji National Disaster Awareness Week Academic Exercise
13 October 2023
Good morning and on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Henry Puna, along with our co-host the Fiji National Disaster Management Office, let me offer a very warm welcome to all participants here this morning to your Forum Secretariat.
And let me say that it is also a very special honour to welcome back Honourable Minister Sakiasi Ditoka who has been part of the PIF family in prior years.
I understand that the activities that are happening over the course of this week and next week are the very first ever for this region and it is good to see so many of you here, especially those who put their lives at the frontline to respond and assist in times of disaster, ensuring that the rest are safe and secure.
Minister, Excellencies, these exercises are critical to ensuring that as a nation and as communities, we are prepared and ready, and it is heartening to know that in so doing we strengthen our resilience to the impacts of hazards.
At the regional level, Leaders have set a strong foundation for how we can work together more effectively and make an impact at national level. In 2022, Leaders endorsed the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent – our blueprint to advance regionalism for the next three decades.
The 2050 Strategy articulates the region’s long-term vision for what we want the Pacific to be like in 2050, and it recognises the many threats and risks we face especially climate change and disasters.
Fiji’s leadership in our region is very encouraging, and today’s exercise gives us the opportunity to see how we may better respond during and after a major disaster, and today’s exercise will allow us to see how the region as a whole can position itself to complement and enhance national efforts.
This work resonates with the overall vision of the 2050 Strategy. It also speaks to goals 1 and 3 of the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific which advocates for enhancing resilience through strengthened preparedness and response to climate change and disaster risks.
And in this context, today’s exercise is being held in conjunction with the third biennial Pacific Resilience Meeting and it provides practical application to the Meeting’s theme of ‘Our People, Our Strength – Securing Our Pacific Future’.
It is also very much aligned with the Boe Declaration Action Plan particularly ongoing work to develop a regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief coordination mechanism.
Honourable Minister, Excellencies, if we know what to expect, then we know how to act and, in the process, save lives and rebuild back more effectively.
With the uncertainties that climate change impacts bring, these exercises become critical in ensuring some normalcy and continuity in times of disaster. We all experienced unexpected change with COVID-19 and from the regional perspective our Leaders decision to activate the Pacific Humanitarian Partnership for COVID, was a means to bring the region together and instil confidence that together we would retain a degree of continuity.
And so at this juncture, I take this opportunity to congratulate you and your team Honourable Minister for this wonderful undertaking. We know it is not an easy exercise, requiring significant planning and coordination to convene and to organise multiple stakeholders. And I also recognise that exercises of this type are usually conducted outside of the region, so to bring this activity here to the region, and here to the Pacific Islands Forum is a tremendous achievement.
So with these words, it is my privilege to introduce the Fiji Minister of Rural Maritime Development and Disaster Management, Honourable Sakiasi Ditoka to deliver his keynote address.
Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu.