Natural disasters top agenda at Pacific foreign ministers meeting

Staffers from the International Organization for Migration assess damage left by Cyclone Pam in Emae Island in Vanuatu. Representatives gathered for the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting will be seeking to strengthen national leadership though supportive regional responses to natural hazards. Photo by: Joe Lowry / IOM / CC BY-NC-ND

Better preparation for natural disasters in the Pacific will be at the top of the agenda for foreign ministers from 18 countries meeting July 9-10 in Sydney, Australia.

The Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting will gather representatives from Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Associate members French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Tokelau will also be present. Micronesia, a member of the Pacific Island Forum, will be the only country absent due to the inauguration of its president.

“The meeting will be used to discuss how PIF members can bolster disaster management in the region including for preparation, response and recovery,” a spokesman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Devex.

The foreign ministers will be seeking to strengthen national leadership though supportive regional responses to natural hazards. Experiences and lessons learned from Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and Typhoon Maysak in the Philippines will play a valuable part in discussions, and the meeting will look to establish opportunities for initiatives that will build resilience and mitigate effects of disasters in the region.

The Sydney meeting follows the World Humanitarian Summit held recently in Auckland, New Zealand, which called for stronger partnerships with vulnerable and crisis-affected communities in the Pacific.

“For this region, the stakes could not be higher, with Pacific island nations making up four of the top 10 countries on the 2014 World Risk Index,” said Stephen O’Brien, the U.N. undersecretary-general of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, following the meeting.

“The strong message from people in the Pacific has been that affected and vulnerable communities, especially women, girls, the elderly and people with disabilities, need to be at the center of humanitarian action,” the U.N. official said. “We need to continue to build strong, trusting partnerships between responders and those impacted by emergencies so that communities get the right help, from the right people, at the right time.”

In September, the member countries will meet with their 17 Post-Forum Dialogue partners — Canada, Cuba, China, the European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America — in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, to discuss mutual strategic interests and opportunities for collaboration.

This week’s meeting will identify the priorities for discussion in September. In addition, a key theme over the next two days will be access to finance for disaster preparation, response and recovery, which is likely to be discussed further in September.

New Zealand’s representative at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting, Foreign Minister Murray McCully, said this gathering is critical to leaders in the region.

“This meeting is an important opportunity for ministers to discuss international issues that affect the region,” he said.

But disaster preparedness will not solely be on the minds of representatives.

McCully said he will be using the opportunity to have one-on-one meetings with counterparts. And following concerns of government corruption and human rights in Nauru, McCully and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be seeking a joint response from the president of Nauru, Baron Waqa.

“New Zealand is taking the reports coming out of Nauru very seriously and this meeting is an opportunity to pass on our concerns and discuss our contribution to the justice sector in light of recent events,” McCully said.

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About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a freelance data journalist based in Canberra, Australia. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane and online through Lisa has recently been awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.