By Andy McElroy
SUVA, 20 February 2018 – The enduring wisdom of the Japanese geophysicist Torahiko Terada – a pioneer of earthquake studies almost a century ago – is inspiring a Pacific nation’s effort to strengthen its disaster risk governance.
Mr Terada’s famous maxim – ‘The next disaster will strike when the memory of the last one has been forgotten’ – is the very first sentence of Fiji’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy 2018-2030.
It is a fitting opening to an impressive document that seeks to systematically learn the lessons of past disasters through strengthened risk governance and clearer priorities for future action.
The Hon. Minister for Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management and Meteorological Services, Mr. Inia Seruiratu, says the policy is a key part of Fiji’s ambition for “accelerated integrated and inclusive sustainable development”.
“Disaster risk reduction is a top priority for Fiji and should be mainstreamed into all policies, plans and practice. Investment in disaster risk reduction measures enhances the resilience of communities. It also saves the government millions of dollars,” the Hon. Minister says in the Policy’s Foreword.
“I am keen to see the policy developed further to inspire action at all levels in the country to reduce poverty and build environmental resilience, social improvement, economic growth, and resilience to the anticipated adverse effects of climate change.”
February 20 marks the second anniversary of Tropical Cyclone Winston – the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the Southern Hemisphere – which wreaked havoc across Fiji.
The Category 5 cyclone killed 44 people and affected 350,000 others, 40% of Fiji’s population. The disaster destroyed or damaged 40,000 homes and caused $1.4 billion in direct economic losses.
And in recent days, Fiji along with other Pacific territories and countries have been badly affected by Cyclone Gita, a Category 4 storm.
Tonga, in particular, has been badly hit. Forty people have been injured and 50,000 people affected. Significant damage has been caused to critical infrastructure, including water supplies, public buildings, transport, and communications. The destruction of crops has hit livelihoods of several farmers.
The cyclone also affected Fiji’s southern Lau island group, 300km south-east of the capital Suva. The most pressing concern is again the loss of crops and the impact on farmers’ livelihoods.
Fiji’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy, which is aligned with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, is currently being finalized. It is expected to be adopted in April, a major contribution to the achievement of Target (e) of the Sendai Framework which seeks a substantial increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020.
Mr. Terada’s trailblazing work in the field of seismic research was prompted by the devastation he witnessed as a result of the 1923 Great Japan Earthquake. He founded the Earthquake Research Institute at the Tokyo Imperial University and served as one of its senior professors.