Author(s): Yo Kunieda

Inclusive disaster risk reduction for a more resilient Pacific

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Panelists of Seventh PRP webinar
Panelists of Seventh PRP webinar

Suva – Strengthening inclusion is the pathway to preventing and reducing disaster and climate risk in some of the Pacific region’s most vulnerable and marginalised communities.

In a Pacific-wide discussion, four speakers shared their reflections and experience on how to support and strengthen the climate and disaster resilience of women, children, and persons living with disability, all of whom are disproportionately affected during and after disasters.

Ms. Noelene Nabulivou, Co-Founder and Director of DIVA for Equality, said that women and lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Intersex people (LGBTI) are often affected by disasters, but can also inform policy making thanks to their strong local knowledge and skills on the ground.

Her organisation tries to link “social, economic, ecological and climate justice”, which connects work on gender, for transformative social policy, better business practice, and environmental protection. She said that “You have to do the work of breaking, and you have to do the work of building”. 

Breaking the patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, harmful traditional practices, neoliberal capitalism, etc. while building just and ecologically sound solutions. Some women in her network are working on changing norms and expectations. She said women should be strong, accurate and factual when they engage with their communities and civil society groups must continue to support such approaches.

Ms. Nabulivou cited examples of women working side by side with men on community negotiations, and construction of a bridge in one community as examples of collaboration in action.

She said building trust and relationships were critical and these should be used to “put the money, put the energy and put the resources where the risk is, and where the real resilient community work is” in urban informal settlements, rural and maritime areas.

Mr. Joshko Wakaniyasi, Executive Director of the Spinal Injury Association of Fiji, and President of the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation, said that “Disaster is everyone’s problem”.

He reflected on progress in terms of increasing awareness and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities but noted that there was still more work to be done in terms of inclusive disaster preparedness. For instance, some evacuation centers remain inaccessible for persons with disabilities.

Mr. Wakaniyasi referred to the particular difficulties faced by women with disasbilities in terms of their privacy and dignity. He added that COVID-19 and physical distancing measures are a big challenge for persons with disabilities, especially those who need carers support 24 hours a day.

He said that along with other organizations, they were developing Standard Operating Procedures for evacuation centres to accommodate persons with disabilities, learning from recent experience.

Ms. Emele Latu, from the Civil Society Forum of Tonga, shared stories of how persons with disability had difficulties especially due to COVID-19. One example was the case of a visually impaired person who was not allowed to enter a bank, and told to wait on the road. The carer was in the bank, and the person with disability felt unsafe because of fear of being hit by a car.

Ms. Nunia Vucukula, Protection, Gender and Inclusion Officer at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), talked the need to better engage with children and youth. A focus on such groups in pre-planning and preparedness phases was critical as young people’s curiositiy, passion and enthusiasm are real resources that can be channelled to prevent and reduce disaster risk.

Many first responders also happen to be young people which is a big advantage in terms of understanding the needs and capacities of this group in the initial response phase.

Mr. Miles Young, Director of the Human Rights and Social Development Division at the Pacific Community (SPC), chaired the webinar. He outlined the far greater disaster risk faced by women and children, persons with disabilities, and elderly people with physical and cognitive disabilities.

The “Optimism in the Face of Overwhelming Odds: The Resilience of Our Women, Children, and Persons with Disabilities” webinar was a part of a Pacific Resilience Partnership (PRP) series which showcase resilience initiatives within the context of multiple hazards.

The PRP, whose governance arrangements are guided by inclusivity, partnership, integrity and quality, and leadership, was established by Pacific governments to support the national implementation of the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP).

The FRDP advocates for a systematic adoption of an inclusive and participatory approach in measures to reduce climate change and disasters. The FRDP also recognises the critical and important role of integrating gender justice and human rights considerations, and advocates for the equal participation of women and men in planning and implementing resilience building activities. 

A video recording and information of the webinar can be accessed from here.

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Country and region Asia Oceania Fiji Tonga
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