Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

Losing your home to a fire is one of the most traumatic experiences any family or person can have.

So I’m delighted to be here this morning to launch our Emergency Assistance Program for the victims of house fires who have no insurance and face financial difficulty in rebuilding their houses.

The incidence of house fires is a national problem and especially a crippling burden for low-income earners whose homes are destroyed.

Since the beginning of the year, the National Fire Authority has attended to 23 house fires that resulted in losses of about $635,000. And while the total number of house fires has been declining over the years, the poor are still hit the hardest.

Just last Saturday, I was saddened to read of yet another case in which a family in Lauwaki, Lautoka lost their home.

Mercifully the husband, wife and six children escaped with their lives but they lost about $20,000 worth of property.

And in another recent incident, a farmer in Volivoli Village, Nadroga, lost around $140,000 when his home was destroyed by fire.

The really heartbreaking cases are those in which the under-privileged may survive but have financial difficulty in rebuilding their homes. Which is why my Government has stepped in to help with the Emergency Assistance Program I am launching today.

In the 2015 Budget, we allocated $1 million in Emergency Assistance this year for Fijians who have had their homes destroyed by fire. And today I have great pleasure in making the first payments to deserving families who would otherwise be homeless, destitute or both without our assistance.

I am about to hand over cheques to six house fire victims from the West and Central Divisions whose homes were either fully or partially destroyed by fire this year.

To the recipients I say: These cheques are to assist you in the task of rebuilding your homes and your lives. I sympathise with the trauma that you all have been through. And I hope that these payments help restore not only a roof over your heads but enable you – to some extent – to put the trauma behind you.

More cheques will be distributed in the Northern Division by my Local Government Minister next week. And, of course, all these families have been subject to a means test before receiving these funds and we have taken the appropriate steps to ensure that this programme only benefits those who deserve it.

To the rest of the nation, I want to repeat how important it is for everyone to take every possible step to avoid fires in the first place.

We all need to be a lot more vigilant about maintaining the electrical wiring in our homes. We need to make sure we turn off appliances and detach them from the wall. We need to make sure that flammable materials such as kerosene and methylated spirits are kept secured and our gas bottles are kept away from heat sources. We need to keep matches away from children and teach them the dangers of playing with fire.

We need to be very careful of smoking indoors – and especially in bed – and of making sure that candles don’t spill. We need the mosquito coils away from flammable material. And, of course, in our kitchens, we need to be extra careful about spillages of heated cooking oil and of making sure that tea towels and clothing are kept away from open flames.

So I ask everybody to be vigilant and take personal responsibility for reducing the risk of house fires to end the loss of property and loss of life that has devastated the lives of so many Fijians.

To all of you who have fallen victim to fires, this is a token of my Government’s concern for your welfare and our appreciation of the struggles you have faced.

We are doing this Ladies and Gentlemen because my FijiFirst Government is a caring government.

I hope we have been of help to you all as you try to rebuild your lives.

And I now have great pleasure in launching this important program.

Vinaka vakalevu, Thank you.