National Disaster Awareness Week Fiji
Fiji and other small island nations are on the frontline when it comes to feeling the effects of our climate crisis. In addition, nearly a third of all people living there, live on land less than 5m above sea level, which of course leaves them vulnerable to rising sea levels. Global weather changes also mean that cyclones and other extreme weather events experienced are more common and profound. In a changing climate, food security becomes threatened, and communities that are not resilient, will not survive.
Fiji's National Disaster Awareness Campaign
In the face of all these challenges, it is crucial to focus on building community resilience and to make sure that communities are better prepared. As Fiji continues to strengthen its disaster risk governance, it launched a National Disaster Awareness Campaign. The campaign ends in April 2021 and has focused on educating those local communities most affected on the risks they face, and to prepare them better for future disasters.
National Disaster Awareness Week
One of the features of this awareness campaign was Fiji's National Disaster Awareness Week. This initiative took place last October in the province of Ba. Ba is one of the country's flood hotspots and the campaign coincided with the very beginning of the annual cyclone season in Fiji, which is between October and April.
The Government of Fiji’s consistent efforts to strengthen its governance of disasters has been shown by its adoption of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy 2018-2030 and its ongoing review of the Natural Disaster Management Act of 1998. The National Disaster Awareness Week marked yet another step towards preparing Fijian communities and to developing and strengthening community response.
As indicated, the week of community outreach and partnering in Ba took place during the time when communities were starting to prepare for the next cyclone season of 4 to 6 named cyclones expected to pass through the Pacific region.
After a procession through Ba Town, the National Disaster Awareness Week event opened with a speech delivered by the Minister of Rural Maritime Development, Disaster Management and Defence and National Security, Mr Inia Seruiratu. Disaster agencies were also invited to display their services at nearby booths so that members of the public could visit, interact and have any questions answered.
A field visit by invited delegates to see Tukuraki village was also arranged. This village was relocated to a safer and less disaster-prone site after a landslide in 2012.
A round table discussion (Talanoa session) was also convened for all parties to participate and to discuss issues. Through the course of these discussions, it was established that the involvement of local players in disaster agendas is crucial for sustainability. Community-led projects supported by international actors are the best route to more resilient and sustainable systems.
During Fijian disasters, volunteers on the ground are coordinated and mobilised by the Red Cross and the Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS). The involvement of these two organisations is mandated in the National Disaster Management Act. They then work alongside the affected village's own disaster response plans and each village will have a committee reporting to the Turaga ni Koro (TNK). In settlement areas, NGOs work with the local community to establish committees to ensure these procedures are in place.
In training communities to be disaster-ready, commissioners urged NGOs and community operators to use the structures already in place and to respect existing reporting structures and hierarchies within iTaukei villages. It was highlighted that in villages with other ethnicities, existing structures may not be in place and future discussions need to be held on how to sustainably manage and register these disaster committees.
During this week, role players in development were also urged to support local ground operators and to help with the establishment of local systems so that they can lead by locals to serve their own people. It was further agreed that hosting this forum outside of an actual disaster was very beneficial as generally these types of discussions only occur when all the various role players are under pressure during a cyclone.
Other highlights of the National Disaster Awareness Week involved a clean-up around Ba Town and site visits to Nasolo and Nawaqarua villages. Various infrastructure building awareness films were also screened to the public directly and on local television channels. These films focused on the importance of using correct housing designs and village infrastructure implementation. These films were followed by a livestream tour of the Navala village, after which another round table discussion took place.
At the end of the week of activities, winners of the best national awareness campaign were also chosen. The closing ceremony included the participation of the New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji Mr. Johnathan Curr. Officiating at the closing ceremony, Mr Curr thanked all the disaster management partners and participants for a fantastic week and commended the commitments made by all to support economic resilience, community well-being and the long term development of Fijians to be disaster-ready.
In summary, throughout the week, communities were able to access valuable information about disaster preparedness. Role players in disaster aid, government and community leadership were also given a platform to engage, meet and talk about all the issues involved. The conclusion of the National Disaster Awareness Week was another milestone achieved in securing better preparedness for Fijian communities to increase resilience to environmental disasters when they occur.