SPEECH BY THE HON PRIME MINISTER AT THE LAUNCH OF THE UNOCHA FLASH APPEAL IN SUVA

Your Excellency, the United Nations Representative in Fiji,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Honourable Cabinet Ministers,
Representatives of Non Government Organisations,
Ladies and Gentleman,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all,

It has been an extraordinary and very traumatic 13 days.

As I’ve toured the country, I have stared into the faces of hundreds of our people in the areas ravaged by Tropical Cyclone Winston.

I have seen their pain. Shared their sense of loss. The trauma of losing their loved ones. Losing their homes. The big things that mattered to them like their schools or places of worship. The little things like a family photo or a treasured possession.

I’ve tried to put myself in their place. To give them comfort. To tell them that as a nation we are all behind them. The words I’ve spoken to them seem so inadequate. But I’ve been greatly moved when they’ve told me that they were glad that I came. That I cared. The nation cared. That they knew every Fijian was with them.

I’ve been in some communities where almost nothing is left. Almost everything is flattened. Yet where I was expecting despair, something remarkable happened. In many places, I found smiles. Even laughter.

People who had nothing had retained the ability to be welcoming. To be cheerful even in the most dire of circumstances. And it has been one of the most inspirational periods of my life. To know that for all its destructive force, Winston did not destroy the spirit of the Fijian people. In fact, it has made them stronger.

All over Fiji, people have held up signs saying “stronger than Winston”. And every Fijian knows it is true. We are stronger than Winston. We will recover. And we will rebuild. And we will do so with our many friends in the community of nations with whom we stand so proudly, and especially at this time.

Today, we gather to launch the United Nations “Flash Appeal” for Fiji. It’s the term the UN uses to describe the immediate response of the global community to a disaster like the one we have just experienced. A flash of funds and assistance required to meet our immediate needs while a more considered response is formulated as more information comes in.

This list of immediate needs that is now being taken to the community of nations reflects the priorities of the Fijian Government. It also takes into account the views of clusters of non-government organisations and relief agencies. And I want to thank you all for your hard work. Vinaka vakalevu.

This has been a terrible blow. Just a few weeks ago, the IMF released a glowing report on the Fijian economy and the bright outlook for our future. Now all of that may be doubt, which is why a concerted program of international assistance is so vital.

This is an occasion for me, as Prime Minister, to express my profound gratitude to the international community for the assistance that has been provided so far to those who have suffered from Cyclone Winston.

I want to especially thank the governments of Australia, New Zealand, India and France for the logistic support they have given us. The ships, the aircraft, the helicopters. The wonderful men and women who are in our country making such a difference to the lives of ordinary Fijians. It is an extraordinary effort and we will never forget the way you have come to us in our hour of need. Hands outstretched, to give Fiji the leg-up we so desperately need.

I’m humbled like every Fijian to know that we have so many friends in the world. Small nations like our very generous Pacific neighbours. The leaders of large nations, such as my friend, the Indian Prime Minister, who have extended a helping hand.

To all our friends throughout the world, we say vinaka vakalevu for your donations in cash and in kind – not only governments but the thousands of ordinary people across the globe who are digging deep into their pockets to assist Fiji.

As well as the money you are sending, we also want you to come to Fiji to be with us. Because most of our resorts are still open and because of the Fijian spirit, Fiji is still where happiness finds you. And perhaps, now, more than ever before. Because we have shown the world the quality of our island life. The resilience of our people. Stronger than Winston. Tougher than ever.

And then there are the thousands of Fijians – here and abroad – who have come to the aid of their fellow citizens. There are the ordinary workers or farmers who have donated all they can. The children who have come forward with their pocket money. There are the businesses – big and small – who have given new meaning to the concept of being a good corporate citizen. There are the individuals and groups who got together as much as they could in the way of supplies and drove to the affected areas. Donating their time, their effort and financial resources in a spontaneous outpouring of love. A spontaneous expression of care.

Ladies and Gentlemen, even in these dark times, we can all take comfort from one shining truth. That we are a caring nation.

With our tenacity and the generosity of UN member states, we must work together to meet the unprecedented need that Cyclone Winston has left in its wake. We look to the world to assist Fiji to fully get back on its feet.

We share the grief of those who have lost loved ones. Our thoughts are with the injured and those who have been made homeless. But we stand together as one nation, one Fiji. Indeed, we have never been so unified as we are this morning – here with our friends from around the world.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, we are showing the world what we are made of. Even in the face of this ordeal, it is a great time to be Fijian. A time to stand tall and proud.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.