Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m delighted to be in Welagi this morning to mark a very important occasion in the life of this community – the opening of an evacuation centre that is designed to keep you safe in the event of natural disaster.
Like every Fijian, you have all lived through some traumatic events over the years – including Cyclone Thomas in 2010 and most recently Hurricane Evan at the end of 2012. And we need to be ever vigilant about potential threats every hurricane season.
Today, in fact, we are closely watching a low pressure system near the Solomons that we are being warned could develop into a cyclone. Let’s hope that we are spared yet another event. But we need to be ready for them when they happen.
We all know too well how these events unfold. The apprehension and the fear as the storm approaches, the intense effort to prepare, the terror as it hits, the destruction and the heartbreak and the massive clean-up that follows.
To this day, I thank God for sparing us any deaths during Hurricane Evan and the intense pain that was inflicted on some of our island neighbours. And to this day, I remain grateful to those Fijians who came to the aid of their fellow citizens in the aftermath of the storm, and especially the wonderful men and women of the RFMF.
Many parts of Fiji suffered during Thomas and Evan and here in Welagi, you suffered more than most – a low lying community deeply vulnerable to flooding and the kind of storm surges that often accompany these terrible events. But you survived, you rebuilt what you could and the spirit of your community remains strong.
There is nothing any government can do to spare you from the full force of storms and flooding. But what we can do is to help you make the necessary preparations to keep you safe and reduce the risk of death and injury. This Evacuation Centre is designed to be a refuge in times of crisis – a sanctuary where you can bring your families and ride out these events together.
It is about solidarity. Teamwork. Banding together to keep ourselves safe. Protecting our children and the elderly. Making the necessary preparations. Because the key to survival is that old Scout motto – “Be Prepared”. From today, we are better prepared here in Welagi but we must never take our safety for granted.
I would like to say that the future for every Fijian is now more secure in times of natural disaster but unfortunately this isn’t the case. In fact, we are being warned by our scientists and other experts that if anything, the risk to us is increasing in the form of extreme weather events and rising sea levels.
The world’s climate is changing and not for the better. And it is especially dangerous for those of us living in small island developing states in the Pacific. The factories of the big industrialised nations are spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere that are heating up the earth’s atmosphere. That heating is causing the ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise. But instead of cutting their carbon emissions enough to stop this heating and the sea from rising, the developed nations are refusing to do so.
They are being extremely selfish. They are putting their own interests and the jobs of their workers before those of us living in vulnerable small island communities. It isn’t good enough and it has to stop. Because communities like yours are slowly going under.
It is even worse in places like Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. In 50 years or so, these countries may no longer exist. And we may have to give some of these people homes in Fiji. Because we will never turn our backs on our island neighbours. Just as we will never turn our backs on you in Welagi and the more than 600 communities in Fiji directly threatened by climate change.
Fiji is doing everything it can – in partnership with the other Pacific countries and other small island states around the world – to get the big carbon polluters to wake up to the fact that the whole world is at risk. It’s a bit like that story in the Bible about David and Goliath. We are David and they are Goliath and unfortunately, we are up against it. But we are determined to keep fighting because the future of the whole communities like yours is at stake.
As well as trying to get the international community to listen, we are also doing what we can here in Fiji to prepare ourselves for the worse. And that is why this Centre is so important.
We built it at the request of the local community and I’m pleased to say that we were able to meet that request. And I want to thank everyone involved in getting the project off the ground.
Your community has provided $10,000 to contribute to the $188,000 provided by Government so I also say “Vinaka Vakalevu” to you all for that contribution. You are taking responsibility for yourselves and not just looking to the Government and that is highly commendable.
Of course, it isn’t just an evacuation centre but a multi-purpose facility. Because of its location and structure, this Centre can be converted to be a medical facility, a place of learning for a kindergarten and a venue for evening study for more than 100 students.
So care, for it. Use it well. It is an important addition to your community and will be a place of refuge and safety when the time comes to be used for the main purpose for which it was built.
I now have great pleasure in declaring the Welagi Evacuation Centre open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.