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Plan for all disasters

Pardeep C Lal
Saturday, February 09, 2013

* Continued from yesterday.

1. DISASTER identified as threat.

2. Threat confirmed and issued by authority promptly.

3. Reconfirmation of threat and areas likely to be affected.

4. Activation of alarm.

5. Prompt evacuation activated by authorities.

Fiji must plan well on all areas of its disaster threats. Nadi will soon have flood and tsunami warning system in place. This must be followed up by well co-ordinated education and training for residents so it serves the purpose.

May I suggest the following:

(i) Guidelines for emergency evacuation procedures to be printed out in all three languages (iTaukei, Hindi and English) and distributed to residents with very clear guidelines;

(ii) Areas may be divided into zones. Each zone must have education programs (door-to-door or community meetings) and authorities (Police and NDMO) must have accurate and full information on family details handy. There is a need for a database for all areas in Fiji. This will cut out unnecessary time for authorities to figure out its household siblings, number, status and other details during times of emergencies and evacuation; and

(iii) Evacuation drills must be conducted by authorities (police force, military and national fire authority) to build consciousness and monitor response time. Each resident and commuter must know exactly what to do when the alarm is activated.

An uninformed public will create chaos and cause traffic jam, which will result in serious consequences. For an individual and his or her family, it will result in inevitable losses and death.

The Yokohama Strategy of 1994 emphasised that disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness are better than disaster response in achieving the goals and objectives of vulnerability reduction.

Disaster response alone is not sufficient as it yields only temporary results at a very high cost. Prevention and mitigation contribute to lasting improvement in safety and are essential to integrated disaster management.

Each disaster situation differs in terms of threat level, time taken for occurrence, velocity, location, etc. Hence careful approach must be taken to ensure that people know how to react to disasters such as tsunami, flood, storm surge, tropical cyclone, etc.

In the longer-term, the best approach to educating people of these disasters is to have disaster education in our curriculum in schools.

Early warning systems are helpful in the short-term. Its effectiveness can only be measured by how quick the warning is given by authorities and the time taken for people to evacuate safely.

It does not however, reduce the occurrences of events such as tropical cyclones, floods and tsunamis. But the impact of some of these disasters can be minimised through proper planning. For example if your house gets flooded each time there is a flood, your best option would be to relocate to a safer place.

A recent survey conducted by Nadi Chamber of Commerce reveals that 54 per cent of businessmen would prefer relocation of their business. I may say that while it does show that majority do want to move, this is not a way to gauge whether a town remains or moves. Had it been that majority would have said that they do not want to move, would this have meant that the town must remain there because majority wants the town to be there? The populism view is not applicable when crucial decisions for the benefit of a nation and its economy are at stake.

Green development

Government's early warning system for Nadi is a good initiative. All towns and vulnerable locations (such as coastal and delta villages) must have it. But more than all, people must take responsibility for their actions. They must take care of their environment, they must plan ahead and the State must assist in relocation, aggressive reforestation programs, education and awareness, monitoring development activities and providing the best advice for longer term sustainability. Green development projects must start in Fiji.

Green development is replacing sustainable development as it was found that the latter could not be measured while green development is clearly measurable and more so realistic, easy to implement at all levels and very practical.

The focus from climate change must also shift to environmental change as climate change is a small component of the wider environmental change that is taking place which humans can take control of and manage. There has been too much talk on climate change and little action here and there.

It's time to take up green development projects on a large scale in Fiji. Paper recycling in Fiji now has helped to reduce paper waste which would otherwise go to the dump, landfill or burnt in the backyard. People and organisations need to make full use of this paper recycling factory.

Some simple green development projects that can be taken up by individuals, organisations and villagers are compost manure instead of burning grass, planting trees with targets for each village, sorting out rubbish before disposal, using baskets for shopping and marketing instead of plastic bags, ban on plastic in towns, coastal and river bank stabilising projects, switching to solar power and other renewable energy options, mini hydro projects in highlands, green towns and green village projects, using solar energy to cook, etc.

Green development helps solve environmental problems in the long-term. It will reduce the possibility of severe flooding, erosion and rapid run-off, cleaner and healthier environment for all.

The impact of taking care of the environment now would be felt in the long-term and its fruits may not be visible in the near future. These are longer-term measures for which we all must strive even though the fruits may not benefit us in this lifetime.

* Pardeep C Lal is a lecturer at the Fiji National University, Labasa campus. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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