The Pacific eyes rewriting their laws on disasters in light of COVID-19
Suva – In light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with sudden and slow disasters, Fiji, the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) and Tuvalu are re-examining how their laws can be updated to better reflect the increasing complexity of disasters.
On top of the COVID-19 pandemic, the countries of the Pacific have had to deal with multiple overlapping disasters. Fiji has had to manage a major cyclone – Harold – as well as long term drought conditions in some parts of the country. The RMI has been in the grip of a dengue outbreak as along with drought, while Tuvalu has had to manage a cyclone and a drought.
These concurrent disasters have brought into focus the need to ensure that national disaster management offices (NDMO) are well-positioned to lead prevention and response efforts that cross sectoral lines. Key to this ensuing that laws and rules enable countries, and specifically NDMOs, to adopt a multi-hazard approach that considers climate, biological and other hazards.
To that end, the Pacific Resilience Partnership (PRP) organises webinar series which:
1. showcase resilience initiatives within the context of multiple hazards;
2. showcase collective and innovative resilience efforts at the regional, national and community levels;
3. should be about learning from each other;
4. should drive and facilitate improved resilience actions.
Its inaugural webinar in late August was on the topic of “Laws & the Pandemic: A Pacific case for resilience within a multi-hazard impact”. The webinar featured the directors of the NDMOs of Fiji, the RMI and Tuvalu, who shared and reflected on their experiences and lessons on dealing with multiple risks and how to improve relevant national legislations.
These reflections from the frontline also called for strengthening collaboration among National Disaster Risk Management Offices to facilitate peer to peer learning when drafting and implementing new national legislations.
Ms. Vasiti Soko, director of the Fiji NDMO, emphasized that the development of innovative approaches is necessary during the crisis, and that each country should ensure safety and well-being of their people despite legislation limitation. Ms. Soko, who chaired the discussion, noted that “Fiji is now more invested in preparedness” and that in light of COVID-19, her country was in the process of reviewing its Natural Disaster Management Act of 1998, which currently limits the NDMO’s role to only disasters caused by natural hazards such as cyclones and earthquakes.
Mr. Sumeo Silu, Director of the Tuvalu NDMO, who is in charge of leading Tuvalu’s recovery from Tropical Cyclone Tino and the response to COVID-19, noted that they are also reviewing their legislation, saying that “There is a need to strengthen the multiple hazard approach, and consider the evolving nature of disasters under the legislation. This provides the opportunities to revise our legislation to better align prevention and response efforts across all relevant government and non-government agencies and committee”.
Despite many challenges during the dual crisis of natural hazards and COVID-19, Pacific countries saw opportunities to improve not only legislation, but also other important issues such as water, sanitation and hygiene, education, gender and disability inclusiveness, guided by the strong leadership of NDMOs.
Mr. Timmy Langrine, Director of the NDMO for the Republic of Marshall Islands noted how his agency has applied gender and disability protection lens to its work and expanded its role in response to the pandemic to support other sectors, including health and education.
“We were able to develop a response plan that has hand washing stations which will be placed in the school premises… We want to start promoting hygiene practices not just for students but also for general public,” said Mr. Langrine. The NDMO also used its network to support the distribution of tablets to schools to ensure students who continue learning at home.
The Chair of PRP Taskforce, Mr. Engel Raygadas of French Polynesia, emphasized the importance of collaboration among the countries of the Pacific, saying: “Our leaders, when they endorsed the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific and the PRP, they recognized the potential to support coordination and action on a number of issues related to climate change and disaster risk management. To translate this vision into reality, our commitment to work together is a key.”
The PRP, which is based on inclusivity, also advocated for solidarity during crisis. This includes solidarity with those who have been hardest by the pandemic. Mr. Mesake Mataitoga, Disaster Risk Reduction Officer of the Fiji NDMO, called attention to the need to ensure that “no one should be left behind” and called on his Pacific colleagues to ensure that their approach to DRR be a “holistic approach, whole society approach, people-centered approach.”
The PRP was established by Pacific governments to support national implementation of the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific. This webinar is a part of the work of the PRP Risk Governance Technical Working Group, where members share experiences and lessons learned from their response measures.
The PRP webinar series will continue to highlight experiences and practical learnings from the Pacific. The second of its series focused on humanitarian action for a resilient pacific on 29 September, underscoring a need to rewrite legal frameworks to include biological hazards responses in the Humanitarian mechanism as well.
A video recording of the inaugural webinar can be accessed here
Webinar information can be obtained here