4 Jul 2013

Pacific disaster risk groups meeting with climate change NGOs in Fiji

4:56 pm on 4 July 2013

Cyclones, fires, rising sea levels and water quality are all on the discussion table this week in the lead up to the first ever joint meetings in Fiji on climate change and disasters.

The Pacific's biggest NGOs are gathering in Nadi to bring together resources and expertise in dealing with disasters that strike island communities.

Experts say the NGOs need to collaborate more, and that small island states are leading the way.

Alex Perrottet reports:

Climate change organisations have long worked independently from disaster risk management groups, but experts are pointing out that they cover the same territory most of the time. Their shared focus is how citizens and governments prepare and react to events like cyclones and droughts, as well as long-term climate change problems like rising sea levels on small atolls. Mosese Sikivou from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community says even the terms they use can be unhelpful and limit their vision.

"MOSESE SIKIVOU: One of the main things that is getting in the way is that the very labels that we use, disaster, and climate. We are trying to help countries reduce their risks to development, and disaster and climate represent a certain element of risk that they face. So the labels that we use, we have become our own worst enemy."

The main goal of the meeting is to improve collaboration, which if achieved, could mean more lives are saved. Neville Koop, who is the meterology and climate adviser for the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, says better communication could have saved more Fijians during last year's deadly floods.

NEVILLE KOOP: The heavy rain warning, which is with the met service, and the hydrology service has the responsibility for the flood warning. They're a different organisation to the met service and that meant there were problems getting flood warnings out to the public. In fact, very little flood warning was actually sent out.

Charles Carlson, who is the Director of Emergency Management of the Cook Islands, says the two groups haven't yet got together at the regional level, but are learning from what's happened in the smaller players, such as on Rarotonga.

CHARLES CARLSON: Those divisions are now under the office of the prime minister, because we are a small country. If we were to form a council for the disaster risk management side I guarantee you it wil probably be the same people on the council for climate change. So by bringing the two together we it saves those resources and avoid the duplication of services.

And experts in the field are saying the Pacific has much to teach, not just learn. Mark Reid, a former Fiji fire chief and now an SPC consultant, says the way Fiji handled Cyclone Evan was a success, with not one death. He says fire safety has improved out of sight in Fiji thanks to greater community consultation.

MARK REID: A lot of best practice is occurring here in the Pacific region, because countries are smaller, programmes can be implemented quicker and we can see results. It's a two-way street. There's a lot that Australia and New Zealand are learning about what's happening in the Pacific. And I've got to say in some areas, the Pacific is far ahead in some aspects of what's happening in Australia and New Zealand.

The joint meeting of the Pacific Platform for Disaster Risk Management and the Pacific Climate Change Roundtable will be held in Nadi from Monday next week.