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Fiji Tropical Cyclone Ami: Statement on government's relief and rehabilitation

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Statement at the Media Conference on Government's Relief and Rehabilitation Assistance Programme for Victims of Tropical Cyclone Ami

Hon. Laisenia Qarase
Prime Minister and Minister for Fijian Affairs, Culture & Heritage,
Minister for National Reconciliation & Unity; and
Minister for Information & Media Relations

Conference Room

Wednesday, 29 January 2003

I would like to brief you on the deliberations of Cabinet yesterday (Tuesday, 28 January, 2003) on the provision of Government relief and rehabilitation assistance to all areas worst affected by Cyclone AMI, and that is in Macuata and Cakaudrove in Northern Division and in Lau in the Eastern Division.

Reports and Submissions to Cabinet

Altogether, Cabinet received and considered seven (7) reports and submissions.

The first, by the Minister for Regional Development, was to brief Cabinet on the provision of relief assistance.

The second, also by the Minister for Regional Development, was to consult Cabinet on the proposed rehabilitation programme to assist victims of Cyclone AMI in the repair and reconstruction of their family homes.

The third, was by the Minister for Health on immediate assistance which the Ministry of Health has given, and that to be provided in the rehabilitation phase.

The fourth, was by the Minister for Education on Government assistance with the rehabilitation of schools.

The fifth, was by the Minister for Works and Energy on the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure.

The sixth, was by the Minister for Agriculture, Sugar and Land Resettlement on rehabilitation assistance to facilitate the speedy recovery of agricultural production.

And the seventh, was again by the Minister for Regional Development providing an overview of the overall disaster rehabilitation programme to be undertaken by Government, closely co-ordinated by the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), by the Ministry of Regional Development.

Relief Assistance

Following Cyclone AMI, Government was criticized for being unduly late in providing relief assistance.

However, from the information provided by these reports, Cabinet is satisfied that Government has done the right thing in carrying out field surveys and assessments first.

There were practical difficulties caused by the breakdown in telecommunications and the shortage of suitable vehicles and manpower. But despite the delays and the difficulties, these surveys have been very helpful.

Not only is the Government now providing relief assistance to all those identified as being in dire need of emergency assistance, Cabinet has also been able to make decisions on longer term relief and rehabilitation assistance to be provided by Government.

Now, let me give you an update on the relief assistance by Government.

As I explained last week, relief assistance is in two phases.

The first phase, is the emergency assistance that is currently being distributed.

The immediate objective is to assist with food, water and shelter. Emergency food rations for one month is being distributed to families in all villages and settlements identified in the field surveys. Government has also supplied water containers and water purification tablets, emergency medical supplies, and tarpaulins. The Red Cross and other NGOs and community organizations are assisting with clothing, beddings, kitchenware as well as food items. Food rations and water assistance have also been given to boarding schools in the Northern Division.

The emergency food rations take into account the size of a family and include units of:

  • rice
  • flour
  • sugar
  • tinned fish
  • full cream milk
  • dhal
  • soya bean oil
Out of a total population of 141,509, comprising 83,852 in Macuata, 45,957 in Cakaudrove and 11,700 in Lau, 91,094 people have been assisted.

Expenditure to date by Government through the Ministry of Regional Development in providing this emergency relief assistance totals:

  • $419,000 for food rations;
  • $132,000 for emergency medical supplies and assistance;
  • $25,000 for cartage of water;
  • $51,000 for tarpaulins; and
  • $45,000 for food assistance to boarding schools like Niusawa Methodist, Holy Cross College and the Marist Training Centre at Tutu.
The second phase of relief assistance is yet to start. This is to follow after the first month covered by emergency relief assistance.

In the second phase, further ration and other relief assistance will be given only after further field surveys have been undertaken to establish genuine needy cases. These would be families who sustained severe damages to their homes and plantations. The second phase will be closely co-ordinated with the provision of rehabilitation assistance for house reconstruction and for crop and livestock production. The aim is to get people and their families back on their feet within a reasonable period of assisted recovery.

Housing Rehabilitation

Field surveys have established that Cyclone AMI caused widespread damage to dwelling houses in both the North and Eastern Division.

The following figures show the extent of the damage:

- in Lau and Lomaiviti, but mostly in Lau - 237 houses were partially damaged and 158 completely destroyed - the total estimated cost - $2.2 million; and

- In Macuata, Cakaudrove and Bua, and mostly in Macuata and Cakaudrove - 5,300 houses were partially damaged and 2287 completely destroyed; total estimated cost $11.6 million.

Cabinet has agreed with the recommendation of the Ministry of Regional Development that $4.5 million of the Ministry's 2003 Capital Budget allocations should be re-directed towards this housing rehabilitation programme. Clearly, more funds are needed. The Ministry of Finance will consider this.

In the past, Government assistance for housing rehabilitation has either been in the form of a direct cash payment of up to $1,200 per household, or the purchase of building materials up to $5,600. Unfortunately, this has often been abused. To ensure the integrity of Government's housing assistance on this occasion, Cabinet has decided on the following guidelines:

1) It will apply only to victims of Cyclone AMI whose homes were either damaged or totally destroyed;

2) It will apply to those who are not regularly employed and do not contribute to the FNPF. (Those in employment should get assistance from the FNPF under the scheme the FNPF has announced);

3) Assistance by Government will only be for building materials up to a maximum value of $5,600 and the assistance is for the most senior person in a household;

4) The supply of building materials is to be based on a survey and assessment by the Ministry of Regional Development, and the Ministry's rural housing unit carpenters are to assist the house owner in the re-building of the family home; and

5) The houses will be of a standard size of 24ft x 16ft, inclusive of a bathroom and toilet and certified cyclone resistant on completion.

Those who require housing assistance should apply through the nearest District Officer or the Divisional Commissioner. Assistance will be provided following an on-the-spot assessment of the damage and the assistance needed.

The rebuilding of damaged community owned buildings like multi-purpose halls will be a separate and additional programme of assistance by Government, but this will also be implemented through the Ministry of Regional Development. Priority will be given to damaged multi-purpose halls in locations identified as important evacuation centres in future emergencies.

Health Sector Requirement

Cyclone AMI completely destroyed the Visoqo Nursing Station. There were structural damages to Labasa and Savusavu hospitals and various health centres and nursing stations.

The rehabilitation of these buildings will require $500,000. About $350,000 is needed for the replenishment of drugs and medicine, and $180,000 for medical and hospital supplies.

The Ministry of Health has identified funds from within its 2003 Budget allocations to cover its funding requirements.

Rehabilitation of Schools

This will be the direct responsibility of the Ministry of Education. The total cost of damage covering 116 schools in Macuata, Cakaudrove and Lau is estimated at $3.3 million, including $1.5 million in classrooms, and $943,900 in staff quarters.

The Ministry of Education will enlist the assistance of the RFMF Engineers Unit in the reconstruction of damaged buildings in the Northern Division. The Ministry of Regional Development's housing unit will assist in the repair and rebuilding of schools in the Eastern Division.

The Ministry estimates that it will require about $4 million for its schools rehabilitation programme and it has identified funds from within its 2003 capital budget allocations to cover its requirements.

Rehabilitation of Damaged Infrastructure

Cyclone AMI caused:

1) damages to roads, bridges and jetties estimated at $2.7 million;
2) damages to water and sewerage systems of $793,000;
3) damages to rural water supply systems of $1 million;
4) damages to Government buildings of $101,000; and
5) damages to electricity infrastructure of $3.4million.

PWD will require $4.7 million to cover its rehabilitation requirements. FEA will fund its $3.4 million. PWD will have to find the money from within its budgeted funds for 2003. The restoration of water supply sewerage systems is being given priority.

Agricultural Sector Rehabilitation

Damage assessment by the Ministry estimates the cost of rehabilitation at $1 million for the non-sugar sector.

The Ministry will fund its rehabilitation programmes from within its 2003 Budget allocations. Crop rehabilitation will require $550,000 and drainage infrastructure $288,000. Priority will be given to clearing and restoring the drainage systems in the sugar cane growing areas.

For the cane and sugar sector, the 2003 cane is estimated to suffer a reduction of 15% on the 2003 forecast of 800,000 tonnes. This means an estimated loss of $8 million. For the heavy damage to the Labasa Mill, $6 million is the estimated required for repairs.

Government is liaising closely with FSC on the need to ensure that the Labasa will be ready for the 2003 season with minimum delay.

If Government has to assist with the $6 million required for the Labasa Mill, it will have to come from the $20 million in the Government's 2003 Budget for the Sugar Industry restructure.

For those who are dependent on copra as the main source of their family income, there has been widespread damage to coconut plantations and it will take at least three to five years for the trees to be productive again.

The Leader of the Opposition has suggested assisting them with a loan scheme. But he said nothing about repayment. I believe the best way to assist those families dependent on copra and at the same time encourage them to make full use of all available mature coconuts is a price support scheme to raise the current minimum mill gate price of $400 per ton.

Based on a paper submitted by the Minister for Agriculture, Sugar and Land Resettlement, Cabinet has decided that the current mill gate price of copra be increased to $500 per ton with effect from 1st February, 2003.

I have also asked the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to hold talks with donor agencies to see what kind of assistance is available to the copra industry.

Appreciation to Donors

The response by overseas Governments and international agencies and organizations has been very generous. I would like to mention, in particular, the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and France in the wide range of assistance they have provided, including air and sea transport.

I am grateful also to all local groups and citizens for their overwhelming response in wanting to help and support the relief assistance efforts both by Government and crucially important NGOs like the Fiji Red Cross.

Concluding Remarks

Altogether, the total cost to Government of the relief assistance that is being provided and rehabilitation work to follow in the various sectors will exceed $25 million.

As I have said, Cabinet has decided that all Ministries should draw on funds within their 2003 Budget allocations to cover their requirements. Where more funds are needed, the Ministry of Finance will assist in identifying additional sources of funds. Funds donated to Government and which are now kept in a Cyclone AMI Trust Account will also be used for rehabilitation assistance and priority in this will be schools and education assistance.

Tomorrow and Friday, Ministers and their senior officials will be holding a workshop to review the implementation of last year's Capital Budget, and to discuss this year's capital investment programmes.

With the diversion of funds for cyclone relief and rehabilitation, Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries are now faced with the extra-ordinary challenge of being more resourceful and purposeful in the use of their Ministry's budgeted funds. Government's economic strategy will continue to focus on achieving the projected growth rate of 5.7% of GDP. This means using all available investment resources in the Budget to lift the level of Government and public sector investment. It also means being absolutely stringent in the expenditure of budgeted funds for the operating and running costs of Government.

What I am happy with is that in covering for the funding needs of post-Cyclone AMI relief and rehabilitation assistance programmes, we have not taken away funds from the Budget of the Police and our law and order enforcement authorities. We have also not taken away funds earmarked for assistance to the needy, the poor and the low income, and assistance for poverty alleviation.

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