The South Pacific Disaster Reduction Program

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Press Conference Statement
The South Pacific Disaster Reduction Program

Romulo V. Garcia, UNDP Resident Representative

H.E. Mr. Tia Barrett, New Zealand High Commissioner; Mr. John Davidson, Counsellor for Development Assistance, AusAID; Mr. Alf Simpson, Director of SOPAC; Members of the Press; Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my great pleasure and honour to welcome all of you at this signing ceremony. Today Representatives of Australia, New Zealand and UNDP will sign an Arrangement to jointly fund the South Pacific Disaster Reduction Programme (SPDRP). The SPDRP is a joint programme between the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and its development partners to work on planning, capacity-building and community activities which can help protect peoples’ lives and livelihoods from destruction caused by natural disasters.

Actually this is not the first time we are joining our efforts together. The SPDRP actually began in 1994 and was implemented then by the Department of Humanitarian Assistance with funding from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and UNDP through its South Pacific Programme Office (SPPO) headed by our Chief Technical Adviser, Mr. Joseph Chung here. Today marks the beginning of a new phase this time under a joint work programme under the auspices of SOPAC. SOPAC has been designated the regional focal point by the South Pacific Forum for coordination among its member countries on disaster management issues.

The Pacific is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to natural disasters. In recent years, cyclones and droughts have wrecked havoc on our island countries causing significant damage to homes and industry and resulting in heavy economic losses. For instance in the Cook Islands, Cyclone Martin devastated three outer islands and almost destroyed the lucrative "black pearl" industry with an estimated total loss of US$ 7.5 million -- a huge amount for a small country.

The impact of El Niño is being felt throughout the region. For example, Papua New Guinea estimated its total loss from the El Niño induced drought at Kina 108 million. Closer to home, the drought in the Western and Northern Divisions could cost the Government of Fiji an estimated F$ 150 million in lost sugar revenue and cost of relief and rehabilitation. When one compares these losses with annual development resources available to the Pacific island countries, the magnitude of disaster related loss is indeed very significant.

There is therefore a need for closer donor coordination and collaboration to work more effectively on disaster management. This is why Australia, New Zealand and UNDP have decided to join hands again in supporting the regional work programme on disaster management as drawn up by SOPAC on behalf of the Pacific Island Countries.

Here I would like to reiterate UNDP’s support towards the fulfillment of that mandate by sharing the experience we gained in implementing the first phase of the Programme, by pledging to assist SOPAC in the implementation of the Programme with our Chief Technical Adviser and his staff and by providing US$ 500,000 for programme activities under the SPDRP Work Programme which we all have endorsed. Furthermore, UNDP expects to provide over US$ 100,000 to finance staff and operating costs annually for the next three years. We have also lobbied with the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs or UNOCHA in Geneva who now intends to provide another US$ 300,000 or so for disaster response. Altogether the UNDP/UN contribution towards the South Pacific Region is expected to total over US$ 1 million.

Under this new phase, we hope emphasis will be placed on reducing the vulnerability of communities. This means working closely with NGOs and with government institutions and other regional institutions working with communities. Disaster management training, disaster mitigation activities and consolidating each participating country’s preparedness and emergency response mechanisms will also continue to ensure sustainability of what we are now putting in place through the SPDRP.

In closing, let me say that we at UNDP very much appreciate this unique partnership and would like to express our deep appreciation to Australia, New Zealand and SOPAC for continuing our cooperation in this critical area of Disaster Management in the Pacific.

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