Opening Remarks by UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Country Director, Bakhodir Burkhanov at the 2nd Pacific Climate Outlook Forum

Oct 17, 2016

Distinguished guests and delegates from the Pacific

Representatives from technical agencies and bilateral partner organizations

Ladies and gentlemen:

It gives me great pleasure to join you today for the opening of the Second Pacific Island Climate Outlook Forum – or PICOF in short. I would like to recognize and thank colleagues from the Secretariat of the Pacific Environment Programme (SPREP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) who convened the first such Forum about a year ago.

The importance of bringing together weather and climate experts for a discussion on how to prepare for adverse weather conditions prior to what is commonly known as the “cyclone season” cannot be overstated.

We have seen the devastation of cyclones and other climate related geo-hazards and the impact that they have had on communities in particular, and the countries as a whole, so certainly more needs to be done to help our countries better anticipate and prepare for cyclones and adverse weather conditions.

Last Saturday, I was able to see first-hand the recovery efforts and the resilience of the people of Koro Island here in Fiji, as they rebuild their lives after TC Winston. It is therefore extremely important that technical information on adverse weather is simplified in a manner that can be easily understood by communities, so that they can take pre-cautionary measures to protect lives and safeguard assets to the extent that they can.

For those in Koro who were in the frontline of TC Winston and suffered the full brunt of a Category 5 cyclone, one may pause to consider what could have been done in the face of such devastating power. We might not be able to control when and where a disaster strikes, but we can certainly educate and prepare communities to ensure that there are the appropriate preventive measures and local plans in place to protect them and their vital assets.

Our colleagues and experts in the meteorological field have been talking about the importance of the “last mile”, which in my lay-person’s understanding is the bridge that connects met data with the communities. Last Friday, in my visit to the Fiji Meteorological and Weather Office, an important point was raised in this regard by the met staff, that despite the advance of technology and the prior availability of accurate information on adverse weather systems, there is little that can be done to safeguard lives and property if the community members and leaders are not able to understand the information and take necessary action.

I therefore urge the delegates to the PICOF to come up with solutions on how we can address the challenge of getting our communities ready and better prepared for cyclones. 

Ladies and gentlemen:

I believe the focus of this meeting will be to look at the impacts of El-Nino, among other issues, and to deliberate whether appropriate information was available to policymakers to undertake mitigative actions. It is worthwhile mentioning here that the dynamics of rapid onset and slow onset disasters is sometimes different, and preparedness for a drought and a cyclone will entail different resources and information.

What is common in both slow and rapid onset contexts is communications. If technical agencies and their counterparts are not discussing and taking appropriate actions, then our ability to better prepare for disasters is negated, and we are not doing all we can in terms of protecting our citizens and their livelihoods. No single actor or agency can succeed in this ask working alone, so coordination across sectors, technical and decision-making institutions is crucial.

At this time, I would like to mention that with the funding support of the Government of the Russian Federation, UNDP will be embarking on a three-year RESPAC project to continue and build on the good work already undertaken by partners in the region to strengthen the resilience of countries and communities. This is a broad-based partnership focusing on the Pacific countries, and we count on your support to make the project a success. 

Climate early warning systems are a critical component of the project, but the key objective of the project is to ensure that advance and accurate weather information is generated by Met Offices and shared with stakeholders. The traditional users of this information are agencies such as the National Disaster Management Offices, but it is equally critical to share this information with insurance and risk mitigation agencies. One component of this project will look at Disaster Risk Financing, which I hope will generate new approaches to disaster insurance, completing existing work in the Pacific.

This evening, we will be launching the RESPAC project at the Sofitel and I would like to thank the main organizers for allowing the flexibility to accommodate the launch in the overall PICOF programme. There will be a project kick-off event involving some the country and agency representatives, followed by a cocktail reception for all delegates, where participants can share experiences with colleagues in the region. UNDP staff who are present here today will gladly advise you of the logistical and transportation arrangements to and from the launch venue.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you all for your participation and to SPREP as the main organizer of the PICOF event – for hosting this important forum which strengthens our partnership in the region.

I am pleased to note that, under the RESPAC project, UNDP has financially supported this PICOF event and will continue to do so until 2018. It is my sincere hope that we strive to make this event inclusive and invite other members from Governments and communities alike to share their views on the importance of climate and weather.

Vinaka Vaka Levu (as they say here in Fiji) and Moce Mada.

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