REMARKS : DSG Manoni at the Inaugural Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction Ministers Meeting

Remarks by Dr. Filimon Manoni, Deputy Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum

Inaugural Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction Ministers Meeting, Nadi, Fiji 

15 September


Chair, Honourable Inia Seruiratu

Minister for Rural & Maritime Development & Disaster Management for Fiji

Honourable Ministers

Distinguished Delegates

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour and privilege to join you this morning to say a few words on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. I congratulate you, Honorable Minister, for your appointment as Chair of this inaugural meeting. We are fortunate to have your wisdom and experience at the helm of this meeting to lead and guide the discussions. I also wish to convey the apologies of the Forum Secretary General Mr. Henry Puna who unfortunately could not be here due to a prior commitment abroad.

To begin, I would like to provide some context for the role of the Forum Secretariat in disaster risk reduction and disaster management in the Pacific. Our role is in recognition that disasters and climate change are cross-cutting development issues and because we anchor regional political dialogue on matters pertaining to the sustainable development of the region, it is important that we are involved. In this regard we acknowledge with gratitude the kind offer by the Pacific Community or SPC, for the Forum to collaborate with them and other partners to help realise this long-awaited opportunity. We also are grateful to the Government of Fiji for their leadership and support in the hosting of this event.

The role that the Forum Secretariat plays in the disaster risk management and resilience building discourse has evolved over time.  We had somewhat humble origins in this area as far back as 1990 when Forum leaders, noting a spate of disasters in the region at the time, recognised, and I quote:

“the need for closer cooperation between organisations and national governments involved in the provision of assistance in disaster preparedness and rehabilitation and directed the Secretariat to undertake a greater coordination role”

This role was further enhanced when it transitioned to the then South Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission or SOPAC as it was more commonly known in 1995. The Pacific Community, or SPC, then assumed responsibility for what we now refer to as Disaster Risk Management, when SOPAC was integrated into the SPC in January 2011.

Within the current context we at the Forum Secretariat see our role in disaster risk management as very much complementing the role played by SPC and other agencies. The Forum Secretariat provides support to our member countries across both these key cross-cutting development challenges. We convene and coordinate high level dialogue on climate change and disaster resilience; support international climate change negotiations; support improved access to and the effective management of multilateral climate financing and disaster risk management financing; support the strengthening of disaster risk financing and risk governance capacity at the national and regional level; strengthen partnership coordination, and; support the strengthening of regional humanitarian disaster response. As an example of this latter role, the Forum Secretariat convened and coordinated the regional response to the COVID-19 pandemic through the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway mechanism.

The Forum also supports other work across the development spectrum such as in economics, trade and social policy development which are intrinsically linked to the climate and disaster resilience agenda.

The role and value-add of the Forum Secretariat is very much consistent with regional policies that have been endorsed by our Pacific leaders. In 2016, leaders endorsed the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific 2017 – 2030. In 2018 they endorsed the Boe Declaration and more recently in July 2022, the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

These regional policy instruments provide strategic guidance to Member countries on how resilience can be strengthened to address the pervasive impacts of disasters and climate change and how to better strengthen and derive improved outcomes in terms of our development aspirations.

The FRDP sets out 3 strategic goals in terms of the integration of approaches to climate change and disaster risk; low carbon development and strengthened disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Critical in this policy is also the emphasis on ensuring the integrity and effectiveness of resilience through for example, making sure that risk reduction and adaptation initiatives specifically target the needs of the most vulnerable in society such as women, youth and persons living with disability. There is also an emphasis on the need for well-informed resilience through open and ready access to traditional knowledge and contemporary disaggregated data and by incorporating holistic worldviews and spiritual beliefs. The FRDP further stresses the importance of ensuring the sustainability of resilience interventions.

The Boe Declaration on Regional Security 2018 and its Action Plan 2019 recognises that climate change remains the single greatest threat to regional security and that the Pacific is faced with several complex security challenges. In addition to ‘law and order’ focus areas, the Boe Declaration and its accompanying Action Plan emphasises climate security, inclusive of the promotion of the FRDP, human security and humanitarian assistance as other critical focus areas. The need to strengthen humanitarian assistance, disaster preparedness and response to foster long-term resilience is a specific element worth mentioning here, and in that connection, has evolved the priority to establish a regional Humanitarian and Disaster Response mechanism.

In that context, I also highlight the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19, which was an innovative regional approach to a non-traditional security challenge.

In March 2020, the World Health Organisation formally declared COVID-19 a health pandemic, and they reached out to the Pacific Islands Forum to lend our political support to ensuring the efficient movement of medical and humanitarian assistance to and across the region. Shortly thereafter, in April 2020, Forum Foreign Ministers recognized COVID-19 as a major crisis and invoked the Biketawa Declaration.

Subsequently, Forum Foreign Ministers endorsed the establishment of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19, including the establishment of a Ministerial Action Group (MAG) and Officials-level Regional Taskforce. This made the Pacific the first region in the world to formalize a regional response to COVID-19.

Through the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway, the Forum received and distributed to Members funding support from Australia, Taiwan and China, technical assistance from Cuba, and medical supplies from the Jack Ma Foundation, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey. Collectively, we developed six common protocols, undertook over 50 humanitarian relief flights, and delivered over 310 tons of cargo and 153 technical health and humanitarian personnel.

It’s an achievement worth reflecting on. The approach taken to establish the PHP-C, its Governance structures, the 5 original regional protocols, all in record time, provides a strong example of what can be done when we work together to prepare for and respond to disasters across our Blue Pacific Continent. It offers a basis that Disaster Ministers can build on to deliver the Leaders’ vision for more coordination between organisations and national governments on disaster preparedness and response.

The 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent articulates a vision by our leaders for a resilient Pacific region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and prosperity that ensures all Pacific peoples can lead free, healthy and productive lives. Within the strategy our leaders have committed to, amongst other important challenges, advocating to reduce and prevent the causes and impacts of climate change, sea level rise as well as to continue to pursue innovative measures to address climate change impacts and disaster risk.

In my view, these regional policies provide useful guidance for the deliberations that will take place in your meeting here, Honorable Ministers. I acknowledge that your agenda reflects appropriately the need to deal with our strategic challenges for safety, security and resilience in the Pacific. It is important to get your support for the strategic priorities of risk informed development and integration, disaster preparedness and response and resilient recovery. Your commitments to help progress the much-needed work in these and other areas are urgently needed.

I convey the congratulations of the Secretary General for the decision to have this meeting so soon after the Leaders meeting in July this year which endorsed the 2050 Strategy. Such an occasion as this demonstrates that the future of disaster risk management and resilience building, within a more complex landscape with multiple risks, is in good hands. It demonstrates that there is a serious and dedicated effort to address our local, national and regional policy imperatives.

We will report back to our leaders on the strides being taken within the region on disaster risk management. In this regard we look forward to receiving the outcomes of your meeting.

Chair and Honorable Ministers, I thank you for the opportunity afforded to the Forum Secretariat to make a few remarks.