The Honorable Minister for Local Government, Housing and Environment, Infrastructure and Transport,
The Tui Yasawa,
Representatives of the Fiji Roads Authority and Pacific Marine & Civil Solutions,
My Fellow Fijians.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
Almost three years ago – in December 2012 – Tropical Cyclone Evan cut a path of destruction through the Yasawas and much of Fiji.
It damaged or destroyed scores of homes, schools, and churches. But with courage and determination – plus assistance from outside – the people of the Yasawas have rebuilt their lives and their infrastructure.
Back in 2010, a huge storm damaged your jetty here in Yasawa-i-rara when it was in the early stages of construction. And two years later came Cyclone Evan, with all the devastation it wrought.
But I’m delighted to be here with you today to finally celebrate the official opening of your new jetty – your $2.6 million link to the outside world.
As you all know, I visited you in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone to assess what was needed to get you back on your feet. And while I was shocked at the destruction, I will never forget the spirit of optimism and determination that I encountered on that visit.
It was the Fijian spirit at its best. And I was so moved that a year later, I asked Fiji Airways to name one of its new A330 aeroplanes Yasawa-i-rara in honour of you all and the beautiful place you call home. And now the name Yasawa-i-rara can be seen on the side of that plane at all the great airports of the Asia Pacific.
I know that many of you will never forget the day that it flew low over the Yasawas on its delivery flight into Fiji. What a day that was. Truly a day to be proud to be a Yasawan. A day to be proud to be Fijian.
It has been a tough three years for you all – rebuilding your homes and your lives. As you know, I was back here in April 2014 to re-open the Bukama Primary School, that was also destroyed, and the new classroom block at the Yasawa High School in Naviti.
A huge amount of work has gone into the rebuilding effort. And I know you will all join me in especially thanking the RFMF for the assistance it provided to so many of you. Our men and women in uniform are truly the pride of our nation – serving the world through our UN Peacekeeping Missions and serving Fijians in times of crisis, as in the aftermath of Cyclone Evan.
It has taken some time to provide you with a proper jetty again and I want to thank you for your patience as you made the best of a challenging situation travelling to and from the island. But now that it is finally completed, what a great sight it is. Sturdy and strong. And built to the highest engineering standards to provide you with many years of reliable service.
The Jetty spans 125 meters with a jetty head and landing area of 72 square metres. It can accommodate vessels with a draft of up to 5 meters. So at last we can get vessels of a substantial size to berth at Yasawa-i-rara again.
Not only will that ease your journeys to and from the mainland but it will also enable cruise ships to visit the island again and provide you with a source of income. So it is a huge economic boost to Yasawa-i-rara, empowering our people and giving them the means to improve their lives and the lives of their families.
I know that a lot of effort has gone in to strengthen the structure of the new jetty to better withstand the exposed conditions on this stretch of coastline. And I want to thank both the construction team from Pacific Marine and Civil Solutions and the design engineers from MWH Fiji.
As with all these things, we hope and pray that nature spares us the same force of destruction again. But as the people of Yasawa-i-rara know more than most, these cyclones can come out of nowhere with terrible force. And we must always be in a high state of preparedness. We must always be on alert.
My fellow Fijians, my Government is preparing for a future in which extreme weather events are likely to happen more often and with more intensity because of climate change. And I want to briefly tell you today what we are doing about it.
At the end of this month, I will be in Paris to attend the United Nations Climate Change Summit with a very strong message for the rest of the world. That for the sake of people like us in low lying atolls around the world, we must do something urgently to stop the world warming up, the icecaps melting and to stop the rising seas that are threatening our way of life.
This warming is not only causing the seas to rise but is making our weather more unpredictable. The scientists tell us that we will have to get used to a world in which there are more cyclones and other extreme weather events like droughts and floods. This is a matter of deep concern for you all and every other Fijian, along with the people of the entire Pacific and other low-lying countries such as Bangladesh.
This warming of the planet has been caused by the carbon emissions or greenhouse gases that are being pumped out mainly by the industries of the developed countries. Fijians also pump out carbon whenever we use fossil fuels such as diesel or petrol. But the average Fijian is emitting five times less carbon than people in other countries. So this is a clear case of us not being at fault but being forced to suffer the worst effects.
I will be in Paris at the end of this month with the other Pacific leaders to tell the big countries that they have to urgently reduce their own carbon emissions. We have issued what we called the Suva Declaration, urging every country to agree to keep the warming of the planet at no more than 1.5 degrees above what it was before the industrial age. But we are having a great deal of trouble getting them to listen.
This includes countries like Australia, whose citizens burn more carbon per capita than any other people in the world. I keep telling Australia that it has to change and especially stop developing its reserves of coal – to leave it in the ground rather than make money selling it. It is the dirtiest of energy sources. And the development of just one Australian coalfield produces more carbon emissions when that coal is burned than the whole of New Zealand in one year. But so far, I’m afraid Australia isn’t listening and neither are a lot of other countries.
For us in the Pacific, it is a matter of survival. Three countries – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands – will sink beneath the waves altogether if we don’t act swiftly to stop the planet warming. And it will also have a devastating impact even on islands that are mountainous. Because we are going to lose a lot of coastal land that we currently live on or use to grow our crops.
In Fiji we have identified more than 800 communities that are at risk and more than 40 that will have to be relocated. So you can see that we have the fight of our lives to win in Paris – to get the nations of the world to wake up to what is happening and do something about it before it is too late.
I just wish those people could come to Yasawa-i-rara to see the challenge people like you are facing at first hand. To see the beauty of your home and the threat to you all posed by the rising seas and more frequent and stronger storms. I intend to fight as hard as I can to get the world to take notice. But in the meantime, we can only do what we have some control over. And that is to prepare for the worst – to work as hard as we can to build our resilience to climate change. And especially events like Cyclone Evan that blew away your last jetty and upended your lives.
As you all know, my FijiFirst Government is working with communities throughout Fiji to be prepared. And that is my message to every Fijian. Be prepared. We must never take anything for granted, especially as we move into the traditional cyclone season.
From the youngest person to the oldest person in any community, everyone needs to know what to do. So I ask all of you to always be alert. Always be prepared. Take notice of the advice from DISMAC and the other government authorities. Take personal responsibility for your own safely and the safety of those around you.
During Cyclone Evan, God blessed us here in Fiji by sparing the lives of everyone, even if our homes and communities were destroyed. Not a single person was killed, as happened tragically in some of our neighbouring countries. It was God’s hand that helped us and it was also because we took the necessary steps to help ourselves.
I ask you all to be similarly prepared when it happens again. And I’m afraid to say it is definitely WHEN not IF. Because if anything, the risk now is greater than ever before because of climate change. And the whole nation needs to be on high alert during the coming months.
But on this wonderful day in the Yasawas –– let us put that to the back of our minds and celebrate. Celebrate the fact that we all lived through Cyclone Evan to see this day. Celebrate the fact that the spirit of our people couldn’t be broken. That with the assistance of other Fijians, we rebuilt our community and rebuilt our lives.
Let us also celebrate the wonderful privilege of being Fijian. To live in a wonderful country. And let us celebrate our new jetty – our link to the outside world and our link to the wider economy. Great days lie ahead for the Yasawas and our beloved nation. And I now have great pleasure in declaring the new Yasawa-i-rara jetty open.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.