Cook Islands’ online menu for resilience

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United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific
The Cook Islands are fostering stronger partnerships to strengthen their disaster risk management. (Photo: Robert Linsdell/Flickr)
The Cook Islands are fostering stronger partnerships to strengthen their disaster risk management. (Photo: Robert Linsdell/Flickr)

SUVA, 3 November 2015 – The 15,000 people of the Cook Islands, who inhabit 15 islands spread across an area of Pacific Ocean the size of Saudi Arabia, know from experience that a stronger and coordinated approach to disaster risk governance reduces distance and builds resilience.

The Cook Islands’ Director of Emergency Management, Mr. Charles Carlson, said a stronger partnership within government – as well as with other sectors of society – was beginning to pay dividends in terms of “continuing our shift of thinking from disaster management to disaster risk management”.

“The Hyogo Framework for Action (2005-2015) helped us to achieve a lot. It started the process of trying to bring people together and for them to understand that disaster risk reduction is everyone’s business,” Mr. Carlson said. “I know from experience that virtually all the relevant information needed for disaster risk reduction already exists. The challenge is to bring it all together.”

He highlights how the ‘The Cook Islands Geo Portal for Disaster Risk Awareness’ is proving to be an important resource as the island nation begins to implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, particularly in terms of Priority 1 (a better understanding of disaster risk) and Priority 2 (stronger disaster risk governance).

Government departments and various sectors of civil society have embraced the web platform, which includes meteorological forecasts, island profiles, hazard risk maps, as well as links to other disaster risk resources.

“It’s really important to have a centralized database for disaster risk management,” Mr. Carlson said. “It enables us to integrate such information into planning policy. We are moving in the right direction; several ministries, including those for land, infrastructure, health, the environment, maritime issues, are coming on board.”

The Cook Islands Geo Portal describes itself thus: “An information center for disaster risk response and management. We strive to foster collaboration and continual improvement of emergency response working in partnership with the public, government ministries and key stakeholders, to promote best practices before, during and after disasters.”

The Geo Portal is an excellent example of modern technology being used to strengthen disaster risk management particularly in terms of cyclones and food security. However, Mr. Carlson said it was important for such tools to complement the islands’ traditional knowledge rather than replace their indigenous wisdom.

“There is a difference between the main island (Rarotonga) and the outer islands, which have preserved their traditional knowledge much more. It helps them to be more resilient in terms of disaster,” Mr. Carlson said.

“You can see it clearly with food security; they (outer islanders) will feed off one island while they reserve another island for a period of replenishment so that all the natural foods such as crabs and fruits recover.”

The Cook Islands are grouped into two clusters – the Northern Cook Islands and the Southern Cook Islands – whose total land area is 240 square kilometres.

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