Our Na­tion Cham­pi­ons Cli­mate Change Ac­tion

KEY QUES­TION: HOW DO WE MAKE COUN­TRIES, COM­MU­NI­TIES MORE RE­SILIENT TO NAT­U­RAL DIS­AS­TERS? Small is­land de­vel­op­ing na­tions have led the charge on cli­mate change be­cause their com­mu­ni­ties are on the front lines of ris­ing sea lev­els and in­creas­ing nat­u­ral dis

Fiji Sun - - Fiji Today -

As Fiji and Govern­ments of more than 100 other United Na­tions Mem­ber States are pre­par­ing this week for the his­toric sign­ing of the Paris Agree­ment, back in Fiji, res­i­dents of the South Pa­cific country are clear­ing de­bris and try­ing to re­cover from one of the re­gion’s fiercest storms. Fiji was hit by Cy­clone Win­ston, a Cat­e­gory 5 storm, on 20 Fe­bru­ary, less than a week af­ter the country be­came the first to rat­ify the Paris Agree­ment, which es­tab­lishes a long term, world­wide frame­work to re­duce global green­house gas emis­sions.

Small is­land de­vel­op­ing na­tions, like Fiji, have led the charge on cli­mate change, sound­ing the alarm be­cause their com­mu­ni­ties are on the front lines of ris­ing sea lev­els and in­creas­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters linked to ris­ing green­house gas emis­sions.

“We don’t re­alise it would be big like this be­cause this is the first time a big cy­clone, the first time a tsunami came in our vil­lage,” Vil­isa Naival­ubasaga from Mudu Vil­lage, on one of Fiji’s more than 300 is­lands, told the Pa­cific branch of the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (OCHA), as she was pre­par­ing food with other women in a tem­po­rary shel­ter.

The cy­clone thrust Fiji to the cen­tre of a nar­ra­tive around cli­mate change, sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion, and the vi­tal role for hu­man­i­tar­ian work when th­ese three in­ter­sect.

In the vil­lage of Nabukadra, res­i­dents are work­ing with OCHA and part­ners to pro­cure chain­saws, so they can cut fallen wood and con­struct new homes. This is the im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity, but Win­ston has shown the need to think longer-term about re­duc­ing the risks fac­ing their com­mu­nity. “We will dis­cuss how we will man­age to re­build be­cause the sea level be­came high,” Raivolita Tabu­soro, the vil­lage’s head­man said ahead of a com­mu­nity meet­ing. The group had been dis­cussing a range of mea­sures, in­clud­ing mov­ing seafront homes fur­ther back from the wa­ter’s edge and build­ing a seawall from boul­ders dis­placed by the cy­clone.

Diplo­macy and nat­u­ral dis­as­ters

When Win­ston hit Fiji, Peter Thom­son, the Pa­cific is­land na­tion’s Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, was in New York and in­stantly aware of the key role he would have in ral­ly­ing po­lit­i­cal sup­port for as­sis­tance to his home country.

“Sud­denly, you have a re­spon­si­bil­ity for the wel­fare of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple,” he told the UN News Cen­tre. In the storm’s wake, Mr. Thom­son con­vened a brief­ing to the wider UN mem­ber­ship on his country’s need for in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance. He asked Mem­ber States not to is­sue travel ad­vi­sories against vis­it­ing Fiji. He also strongly urged Govern­ments to fol­low in his country’s foot­steps and promptly rat­ify the Paris Agree­ment, which will en­ter into force af­ter 55 coun­tries that ac­count for at least 55 per cent of global emis­sions have de­posited their in­stru­ments of rat­i­fi­ca­tion. On April 22, the Paris Agree­ment will be signed at the UN Head­quar­ters in New York, with par­tic­i­pa­tion from more than 120 Mem­ber States. Each Govern­ment that signs the Agree­ment will also have to rat­ify it, as Fiji did, when its Par­lia­ment unan­i­mously agreed to ap­prove the Agree­ment. Fiji’s Prime Min­is­ter Voreqe Bain­i­marama is ex­pected to for­mally sign the doc­u­ment on be­half of the country on Fri­day. But for Mr Thom­son, the tim­ing could not be soon enough. “This is the worst storm I have ever seen in my life­time,” he noted, re­fer­ring to Win­ston. The de­struc­tion brought back mem­o­ries of Hur­ri­cane Bebe, which hit Fiji more than four decades ago when Mr. Thom­son was work­ing at a lo­cal district, and which ce­mented his in­ter­est in dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness and re­sponse. “We’ve got to think about what is caus­ing th­ese storms,” Mr Thom­son said, stress­ing that cli­mate change “puts the whole de­vel­op­ment agenda at risk.”

Dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness and re­silience

A Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­cane, as mea­sured in in­ten­sity on the Saf­fir-Simp­son Hur­ri­cane Scale, is the strong­est hur­ri­cane that can form on planet Earth. Only 11 cy­clones in the Cat­e­gory 5 have been reg­is­tered south of the equa­tor since 1970. Two of them hit in the past 13 months. Pam, which ripped through Kiri­bati, Tu­valu, the Solomon Is­lands and Van­u­atu in March 2015; and Win­ston, which took more than 40 lives and af­fected 350,000 peo­ple, about 40 per cent of Fiji’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion. In ad­di­tion, Win­ston’s fury wiped out gen­er­a­tions of as­pi­ra­tions for ru­ral schools and agri­cul­tural projects in a space of a few hours. “Gen­er­ally speak­ing, hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance lasts at least six months,” Mr. Thom­son said. This tim­ing comes from the fact that the pro­vi­sion of food is one of the most cru­cial, in ad­di­tion to potable wa­ter, shel­ter and san­i­ta­tion, for ex­am­ple, and that the fastest grow­ing sta­ple in the Pa­cific Is­lands – the sweet potato – takes at least six months to grow. The re­cov­ery phase takes much longer. One year on, Van­u­atu is still re­cov­er­ing from the dev­as­ta­tion by Cy­clone Pam. The Philip­pines is still re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing from the wreck brought by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Five years on, Ja­pan’s north­east coast is still heal­ing from the 2011 earth­quake and tsunami.

For its re­cov­ery, Fiji will fol­low the Sendai Frame­work for Dis­as­ter Risk Re­duc­tion 2015-2030, a vol­un­tary non­bind­ing agree­ment which recog­nises that the State has the pri­mary role to re­duce dis­as­ter risk, but that re­spon­si­bil­ity should also be shared by the lo­cal govern­ment, the pri­vate sec­tor and other stake­hold­ers. For ex­am­ple, Fiji’s dis­as­ter man­age­ment sys­tem at the na­tional level is com­ple­mented by lo­cal of­fices. Ahead of Win­ston’s land­fall, the Fi­jian au­thor­i­ties, un­der the lead­er­ship of the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Of­fice (NDMO), ac­ti­vated evac­u­a­tion cen­tres and moved peo­ple to those fa­cil­i­ties, sav­ing many lives. Mil­i­tary, po­lice and other per­son­nel on leave had been or­dered back to ac­tive duty and worked with lo­cal of­fi­cials.

But a key ques­tion, not only for Fiji but other coun­tries, is how to make com­mu­ni­ties more re­silient to such nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.

In Fiji, vi­tal dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness mea­sures in­clude the in­tro­duc­tion of strin­gent build­ing codes to en­sure that all struc­tures, whether in ur­ban or ru­ral ar­eas, are dis­as­ter-proof. “If your house is built on sand, you must ex­pect to lose it when a cy­clone hits,” Mr. Thom­son said. “There is no point of putting a house back up again on sand.” There are also con­sid­er­a­tions on how to build. Nails are no longer the main choice for roof­ing, for ex­am­ple. But even de­vel­op­ment projects need to be rethought. So­lar pan­els, which are in­creas­ingly utilised in Fiji for clean en­ergy are of­ten placed on rooftops. Un­for­tu­nately, they are of­ten one of the first ob­jects to be blown away in heavy winds.

“The in­evitable ques­tion is who’s next in our re­gion,” Mr. Thom­son said, stress­ing that Pa­cific is­land na­tions share an un­der­stand­ing that cli­mate-caused dis­as­ters are a com­mon chal­lenge.

Re­lo­cat­ing above the waves

Some vil­lage lead­ers on the Is­land of Koro have started dis­cussing com­plete re­lo­ca­tion of vil­lages to higher ground, far away from fu­ture storm surge and ris­ing sea lev­els, and have al­ready iden­ti­fied suitable land if this goes ahead. “That’s a good mes­sage com­ing from the vil­lagers them­selves,” said Amena Yau­voli, Fiji’s Am­bas­sador for Cli­mate Change and Oceans, fol­low­ing a visit to his home com­mu­nity of Na­sou on the is­land of Koro, where Win­ston made land­fall. “What we have to look at is the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion on the ground,” he noted, point­ing to some of the key chal­lenges in mov­ing af­fected com­mu­ni­ties to an­other area or po­ten­tially an­other country.

“Re­lo­ca­tion comes with lots of costs and even the emo­tional tra­di­tions and at­tach­ment to the cur­rent vil­lage site is al­ways there,” he said, stress­ing that am­ple time for dis­cus­sions should be given be­fore any de­fin­i­tive step for­ward by the vil­lage and the govern­ment. More than 40 at risk com­mu­ni­ties in Fiji have been iden­ti­fied for re­lo­ca­tion in the near term and two have al­ready been moved to higher ground. There is also talk of Fiji host­ing mi­grants from other Pa­cific coun­tries where peo­ple have been dis­placed by cli­mate change, if the need arises.

‘New nor­mal’ re­quires higher level of plan­ning, pre­pared­ness

Karen Allen, Pa­cific Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the UN Chil­dren’s Fund (UNICEF), said that an in­creas­ing num­ber of more de­struc­tive storms through­out the Pa­cific is “the new nor­mal,” re­quir­ing an­other level of plan­ning, pre­pared­ness and emo­tional strength. The im­pli­ca­tions are im­mense for every­thing from the way that build­ings are con­structed – in­clud­ing schools and health fa­cil­i­ties – to other crit­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture, such as wa­ter and power sup­ply, to the way that fam­i­lies pre­pare them­selves, their crops and their liveli­hoods.

“Build­ings tra­di­tion­ally des­ig­nated as evac­u­a­tion cen­tres may now be in­suf­fi­cient,” she added. “Com­mu­nity cen­tres built to serve large num­bers as evac­u­a­tion cen­tres are needed.” One of the con­cerns is that many peo­ple do not un­der­stand what a “Cat­e­gory 5” storm means or how to pro­tect them­selves should one be fore­cast. UN agen­cies, such as UNICEF, and part­ners, are in­vest­ing in school-based pre­pared­ness ef­forts so that chil­dren will be pre­pared for emer­gen­cies from their youngest years. The aim of such pro­grammes is to in­stil in young chil­dren what needs to be done in case of nat­u­ral emer­gen­cies, mak­ing it ha­bit­ual, such as brush­ing their teeth and wash­ing their hands. The pro­grammes are new, but Ms. Allen says they could have wide reach­ing im­pacts: “Just as the Pa­cific looks to oth­ers for ex­per­tise and guid­ance, the rest of the world has much to learn from the Pa­cific re­gion. We are, af­ter all, ex­perts by cir­cum­stance.”

Tak­ing the mes­sage on to the World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit

To­day, about 43 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion live in frag­ile sit­u­a­tions, and that num­ber is es­ti­mated to climb to 62 per cent by 2030.

“Build­ing back bet­ter and safer is very much on peo­ple’s minds, and the World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit next month is an op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss the lessons learned from this emer­gency about com­mu­nity re­silience,” said Os­nat Lubrani, Hu­man­i­tar­ian Co­or­di­na­tor for Fiji, re­fer­ring to the in­ter­na­tional event to be held 23-24 May in Is­tan­bul, Turkey. The World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit will be the first event of its kind in his­tory, bring­ing to­gether more than 5000 peo­ple from govern­ments, in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, civil so­ci­ety, Di­as­pora, busi­ness and academia to tackle a num­ber of hu­man­i­tar­ian chal­lenges. Th­ese in­clude how the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties can be re­duced so that there is less need to de­liver hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. Read more about the World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Sum­mit and the Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral’s Agenda for Hu­man­ity on our spe­cial web­page.

“It will be a chance for the Pa­cific to speak out on the need to ad­e­quately fi­nance and in­vest in dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness and risk re­duc­tion to al­le­vi­ate hu­man­i­tar­ian crises. It also makes good so­cial and eco­nomic sense for govern­ments striv­ing to achieve sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment,” said Ms. Lubrani. Mr. Thom­son is also look­ing ahead to the Sum­mit with a clear mes­sage from Fiji: “What we want to see at the Sum­mit is a re­newed call to make the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Paris Agree­ment as num­ber one pri­or­ity in the world.” Source: UN News Cen­tre

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