FIJI DISASTERS DEMAND BETTER ASSISTANCE

Editorial

Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (Feb 13) - More than two weeks after floods devastated parts of the Northern Division, people in this part of Fiji are still waiting for help.

Added to them are now hundreds of families in the West. Some of these are still at evacuation centers waiting for handouts until they can pick up the pieces of their lives that have been destroyed by the weather.

Emergencies respect no boundaries, regardless of whether natural or man-made, and the plight of these families is an emergency. Our thoughts are with the hundreds of homeless, those who have lost farms, crops, livestock and livelihood, as well as the many children waiting to go back to their classrooms.

Among those now suffering are families who had just managed to put their lives back on track after the destruction of Cyclone Ami in 2003.

Throughout the two divisions the stories are similar and Fiji's priority must be to give these people all possible help, in every possible way.

There is an urgent need to get on top of the situation and recovery efforts must move faster and more effectively.

And while the Interim Government's effort in supplying emergency rations and shelter is commendable, much more needs to be done, for although some authorities appear to be in a frenzy in handling the situation, complaints abound about delays in relief measures.

Certainly these situations test the efficiency of the country's administrative system and the commitment of all involved in disaster management and, while the Disaster Management Centre has the job of coordinating relief work, it cannot satisfactorily handle the task without the active cooperation of the other administrative authorities.

Given the mood of compassion and generosity generated in people during such times, the response of any appeals for help cannot but be impressively positive.

The Red Cross is already organizing food and clothing for the victims and efforts such as this have been greatly supplemented by many individuals.

In that light, any appeals must ensure that all the assistance is properly handled to achieve the maximum benefit. Once the immediate rescue and relief operations are over, the Interim Government will be faced with the task of helping with restoration and rehabilitation and with government funds in short supply that will come at a heavy cost to the whole nation.

What has become apparent though is that there is an alarming lack of knowledge throughout much of the community of how to prepare for, and help minimize the impact of such events.

The truth is that the situation many people now face is, unfortunately, the result of a complacent way of life. It cannot be difficult to understand that each year Fiji has a wet season and that the risk of cyclones and heavy rain is extremely high.

This means precautions have to be taken and lessons from past events must be learned.

While the most important need of the moment is to arrest further loss and bring relief to the victims, future work needs to also focus on education and understanding.

It is a big job and one that will need all the resources the country can muster.

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