Good morning.

It is a pleasure for me to be with you today to inaugurate this important workshop, which is launching the process of preparing our National Disaster Recovery Framework. I have looked forward, for a very long time, to the development of this Framework.

The initiative that we are launching today offers Vanuatu the chance to be a global leader in disaster recovery.

Let me explain: Vanuatu, like many other countries, prepares disaster recovery plans after specific disaster events, like TC Pam, Ola or the Manaro Voui eruptions.

But none, as far as I know, has prepared a disaster recovery framework that can be applicable to guiding disaster recovery efforts after any kind of disaster event.

My Government takes very seriously the whole issue of disaster risk management, preparedness, response and recovery.  It is very much in our national interest to create a Disaster Recovery Framework.

This is about protecting our country and protecting our shared future. This is our responsibility. The Framework must be nationally-owned and nationally led.

We all know that Vanuatu is considered to be the most vulnerable country in the world to various types of disaster event. It has been said many times before.

Memories of Tropical Cyclones Pam, Donna and Oma are still fresh in our minds. Today we are still struggling to deal with the disruption and whole-scale displacement of our citizens on Ambae, caused by the eruptions of Manaro Voui.

We are likewise confronting the consequences of therecent volcanic eruptions on South East Ambrym, the deep fissures and slippage of the earth that this has caused and the need to urgently relocate people from the affected areas.

However, these challenges are not new to us. We have uniquely strong custom values and traditions that help us prepare for disasters, respond to them, manage them and recover from them.  Our traditional knowledge should complement new knowledge that is available to us today, about approaching disaster management and recovery. I would like to see that our framework incorporates our traditional knowledge and practices of responding and managing disaster.

When disaster strikes in Vanuatu, our first reaction is to help each other, community to community, tribe to tribe, island to island. We extend a helping hand, we provide others in distress with our own foods, until theirs start growing again.

Do we really need to import supplies of tinned fish or bags of rice, to help our citizens in an emergency? I don’t think so.  We can make available our own foods from our own country. Encourage private sectors, communities, provinces to hold hands together in responding to disaster with healthy foods but not with NCDs foods.

Let’s strengthen our own productive capacity. Let us not erode our traditions of self-help by increasing dependence on imports from the outside.

In your deliberations today, always have this goal at the back of your mind: we must build on and reinforce our traditional values, knowledge and practices, our tradition of community self-help and voluntary work.

Let us not erode and forget them, as we seek to mitigate the impacts of disasters and to recover from them, so that we are stronger than before. Our traditional knowledge and our values are at the heart of our national resilience.

Our international partners need to be sensitive to the fact that in responding to and recovering from disasters, we can do so much to help ourselves.

The National Disaster Recovery Framework will, in due course, frame for us the legal, policy, institutional and financial frameworks, the operating procedures and capacities, that we need to manage disaster risk and to recover from disasters.

But please remember one fundamental point: all of these necessary actions are means to an end. Everything we do here, the recommendations we make, must contribute to making life better for our people who are affected by disasters, particularly the most vulnerable.

We must help them recover as quickly as possible from the disasters that befall them, to strengthen their resilience against future disasters, to have a better life.

We must ensure that women and men are equally involved in the recovery decisions that affect their lives.

We must help communities and households to help themselves, to build on their traditional knowledge and to complement this with new skills and knowledge. Without that end result, our deliberations will be meaningless.

I am not anticipating a Recovery Framework that is produced as so many of our policy and planning documents tend to be – long, complex, written in a way that most ni-Vanuatu will not comprehend.

I would like to see this Framework be a practical handbook, relevant to people’s lives, understandable. It must be a realistic and practical tool and guide for all.

How do we get to that point? How can we ensure that the Recovery Framework will be practical and useful? It is your job today to question, to probe, to learn from past disaster recovery experience, to take a fresh look at how we manage disaster risk and recovery, to look at what has worked and what has not worked, why it has not worked and how to fix it.

Do communities, government, civil society and the private sector have the capacities and resources to mount effective disaster recovery operations? If not, what do we need and how will we acquire those capacities and resources?

You get my point. We are not necessarily looking for consensus today. Please take a fresh look at what works and what doesn’t. Your discussions should be frank and open. There may be differences of opinion and perspective, but that is fine. Argue about what works and what doesn’t, but come up with suggestions as to how we can fix the problems that you identify.

I would like to see, coming out of this workshop, a clear work plan for addressing the obstacles and challenges we face in launching effective disaster recovery efforts.

But again, let me emphasize: build on our ni-Vanuatu strengths, our traditional knowledge, our traditions of helping each other, of being self-reliant. That will ensure that the National Disaster Recovery Framework will really be useful and relevant to our society and nation.

Of course, we cannot only think about disaster recovery, once a disaster event has occurred. We have to think ahead.

For example, are we consistently taking disaster risk into account in our development planning? This is a necessary step in ensuring effective disaster recovery operations.

Government will shortly begin preparations for our 2020 annual development plans. I would like to see, in the 2020 plans of every Government department, of everyProvincial Council, an explanation of how disaster risk is factored into their plans and activities for next year.

Are we building resilient infrastructure? What is the point of building a road that will crumble after a few heavy rains? That is spending without value. Climate change is likely to cause more extreme events of greater severity. We have to plan our infrastructure to withstand these.

We need to be serious about building resilient infrastructure. Ni-Vanuatu has to change their mind-set; our engineers need to change their views and ways they design infrastructure;  and policy and institutions relating to infrastructure MUST be changed.

In our context, we need to see development through the lens of resilient and disaster because we are counted as one of the vulnerable countries in the world today.

We have already come a long way in our ability to identify the hazards and disaster risks that confront us. Understanding the specific, local contexts in which disasters can take place is essential to preparing well for them, mitigating the risks and recovering quickly.

For example, our communities are changing and growing. We have to recognize the very real challenges and disaster risks faced as our towns and cities expand.

Port Vila is likely to double in size in the next 20 years. Do you know what that means? It means that half of the Port Vila of 2039 is not yet built. So now is the time to do our planning for the risk-resilient Port Vila of 2039, and for all the additional settlements, infrastructure and services that will be needed in that future Port Vila.

We need to think ahead, to plan with the future in mind, to avoid the mistakes of the past, so that we can recover better after any future disaster event.

We have representatives here today from civil society and the private sector – Government can learn much from their experience in planning for the future, for disaster preparedness and recovery.

The development of a comprehensive, practical National Disaster Recovery Framework will also contribute to Vanuatu’s ability to graduate from the category of Least Developed Countries to “Developing Country” status, as defined by United Nations.  We are on our way to realising this goal, which we aim to achieve by December 2020.

Disasters have significant negative impact on our GDP, on our overall social and economic development. So you can help by laying the foundations for a National Disaster Recovery Framework that will:

·        strengthen resilience and sustainable development, economic growth and social services;

·        strengthen public-private partnerships.

·        improve project delivery, contracting, procurement and fiscal management.

All of this will contribute to helping the National Coordinating Committee, established by the Council of Ministers, to finalise the Smooth Transition Strategy for Vanuatu’s graduation to Developing Country status.

Acquiring that status will, in turn, open up opportunities for Vanuatu to mobilise new resources from global markets and access new and more flexible sources of financing and investment.

So you can see, there is a lot hanging on the development of the National Disaster Recovery Framework.

Last year, in my Independence Day speech to the Nation, I emphasized that disasters are an ever-present part of Vanuatu’s reality. We ignore them at our peril. We cannot sit waiting for them to happen. We have to think about them in advance, think how to minimize their effects and how to recover from them quickly. We must be resilient.

What does that word resilience mean? Let me repeat what I said on 30 July last year:

Resilience means being tough in the face of difficulties, being able to ward off harm, being able to recover and bounce back from great difficulties. We can all think of recent disaster events that have threatened our families and country at large. But we have recovered, moved forward, and rebuilt our lives and communities, often to be better than they were before. That’s resilience.

We must all share ownership of this National Disaster Recovery Framework. It is for our country and for the benefit of all citizens. It marks the start of a new journey towards resilience and the truly sustainable development of our nation. We will decide on the direction it will take – and we will invite our international friends to accompany us on our journey.

I am expecting much of you today. Please - frankly discuss what we need to do, to ensure successful disaster recovery and national resilience. Have lively and open discussions. Come up with a work plan for fixing the challenges we face in ensuring effective disaster recovery. 

This is important work, so put your cellphones away. Vanuatu will not fall apart if you wait until the breaks or lunchtime to answer those phone calls, text messages or emails.

I would like to convey my deep appreciation to all of you present here, for your efforts in rebuilding Vanuatu after multiple disaster events. Your contributions will mean a lot to our communities that bear the brunt of the impact of disasters.

I pray that your deliberations here today and in many tomorrows to come, will pave the way for risk-informed development, for recovery efforts that support sustainable development and that strengthen the resilience of our people.

Most importantly and most practically, I pray that your discussions and conclusions will make a real difference in the lives and future of our citizens everywhere, from Hiou in the north, to Anatom in the south.

 

Thank you for listening and may God bless you all.

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