Bakhodir Burkhanov: Launch of the Early Warning System in Tuvalu under GEF NAPA 2 Project

Jun 1, 2017

Honourable Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sosene Sopoanga

Representatives of the Government of Fiji

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Distinguished Guests:

Talofa and Bula Vinaka, ladies and gentlemen!

It is a pleasure and an honour for me to be here and to deliver a few remarks.

In a few days from now (June 5-9), the United Nations is convening a high-level dialogue in New York, commonly referred to as Oceans Conference. The theme of the conference is “Our oceans, our future: Partnering for the Implementation of SDG 14”. Goal 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Leading up to this conference and indeed the global agreement around SDGs, states and organizations have called for sustainable development to take into account countries in special situations that are at the cutting edge of climate change and other globally significant changes brought about by human activity.

UNDP recognises the special case for sustainable development and resilience-building of Small Island Developing States in view of their unparalleled vulnerabilities, as outlined in international frameworks such as the SAMOA Pathway, UN Convention on Biodiversity, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and of course the 2030 Agenda. Speaking of oceans and marine resources, these countries are just as much ‘small island’ states, as they are ‘big ocean’ states.

Tuvalu is a low-lying atoll nation. Its atolls are highly exposed to sea-level rise, with extreme vulnerability to the increasing severity of cyclones, rises in ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. Nations such as Tuvalu contribute the least to global emissions and climate change, but are amongst the most vulnerable.

To this effect, UNDP has supported the Government of Tuvalu in successfully accessing funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for conservation and adaptation projects to the tune of 10 million US Dollars. Amongst these, is the US$ 4.2 million NAPA 2 Project, which made tonight’s event possible.

UNDP has worked closely with the Department of Environment in establishing Early Warning Systems on five of the nine islands of Tuvalu. In doing so, Tuvalu is setting the pace to become one of the first few countries in the Pacific to have such a system in place.

Indeed, Early Warning Systems are still non-existent in many countries vulnerable to climate change, including islands in the South Pacific and the Caribbean. This has been highlighted recently in global discussions by the World Meteorological Organisation.

Tuvalu’s islands are spread over thousands of miles of ocean, presenting a constant communication challenge. The northernmost island of Nanumea is 464 kms and a 27-hour boat ride away from Funafuti, the nation’s capital. It is in fact geographically closer to Kiribati. Niulakita, to the South, is situated 136 kms away from Funafuti, and is actually closer to Fijian shores than to the capital.

The remoteness and lack of reliable communications presents a tremendous challenge the country’s ability to address national development priorities and deliver much needed services to communities.

Once fully completed, the Early Warning System will connect Tuvaluans living on those far-flung atolls and islands through appropriate communication means. In developing this system, the project design has identified weaknesses in existing modes of communications, and addressed their susceptibility to extreme weather.

Let me go over some of the key features of the Early Warning Systems developed through the NAPA 2 Project:

  • Firstly, more reliable communications have been established connecting all outer islands with mainland Funafuti over 24-hour periods on a daily basis;
  • Secondly, high frequency communications systems have been completed and successfully tested on four islands, namely Niulakita, Nukulaelae, Vaitupu and Nukufetau. Key actors on Funafuti such as the Police Department and Meteorological Office have also been connected linked through the HF communications system; and
  • Thirdly, emergency sirens and alarm system have been installed on all islands, allowing for emergency alarms to be sounded at any time of the day.

Importantly, the Early Warning System helps national authorities and island kaupules (councils) to better plan and coordinate responses before, during and after disasters and extreme events. In addition, the NAPA 2 Project supported Tuvalu Red Cross and Meteorological Office in reviewing disaster preparedness, response and recovery plans for the four islands. 

The system also enables weather observations on islands which can now be relayed to the main meteorological center on Funafuti, thereby strengthening weather forecasting and longer-term climate data gathering.

The opportunities that this development creates for Tuvalu will go much beyond these few highlights. I would like to urge all development actors to maximise this benefit for resilience building and development in Tuvalu.

This support would not have been possible without the leadership of the Government of Tuvalu and financial support of the Global Environment Fund. For us at UNDP, assisting countries like Tuvalu to enhance their adaptation and resilience is a top priority of our new five-year strategy in the Pacific.

I would like to acknowledge the presence tonight of the Hon. Prime Minister Sopoanga, whose tireless advocacy on behalf of the SIDS and Low-Lying and Atoll Nations continues to influence global thinking and financing for adaptation and resilience.

Thank you, Excellency, for your leadership, and congratulations to you and your Government on establishing the Early Warning System for the enduring benefit and well-being of about 11,000 Tuvaluans, including women, men, children, youth, senior citizens and the physically challenged.

Distinguished guests, colleagues and friends:

Resilience of communities in the Pacific to climate variability and extreme weather is often at the core of our collective efforts. UNDP regards the ability of nations such as Tuvalu to adapt and prosper to be of global significance; and their unique ecosystems and culture as part of global heritage and wealth.

We thank you once again for your partnership and contributions to this shared objective, and look forward to working together.

Fakafetai lasi and a good evening to all.

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