The Department of National Emergency Management Office marked the International Day for Disaster Reduction under the theme ‘Live to Tell’ at the Digicel Square this morning.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of MEIDECC, Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni in his keynote address emphasized what Tonga has done to improve its state of awareness and preparations in regard to natural disasters.
“We have integrated Disaster Reduction into all community development plans at community level, which we are working together with MIA to improve preparations at ground level. First by training the town officers together with district officers and the various line ministries involved and then slowly by producing standard of procedures for each hazard to be published and put up at town halls and evacuation areas.”
Hon Sovaleni stated that the Ministry of MEIDECC and Government of Tonga aimed to work together with the public to ensure preparedness for disasters.
“We are aiming to work together with you to have a Greater global awareness of the Sendai Framework by presenting it as a life-saving agenda for building resilience to disasters caused by both man-man and natural hazards, Greater inclusion of representatives of vulnerable groups in national disaster risk reduction programmes, Public discourse to promote attitudinal and behavioural change towards disaster risk management,” he said.
‘’Without specifically targeting and including the most vulnerable of groups in awareness programs and hands on training, we are never going to improve our resilience. But with our efforts to build from the ground up by taking a bottoms up approach to awareness and preparations we are empowering the most vulnerable and arming them with necessary knowledge to stay safe not only during but after disaster strikes.”
He told the gathering that disaster reduction was a shared responsibility between the government, stakeholders and the public.
“This is not just a responsibility that rests on your government. It is shared responsibility between Government, aid donors, civil society organizations and individual. It is our collective responsibility to ensure we are more resilient, that we reduce the vulnerability to ensure we are more resilient, that we reduce the vulnerability of vulnerable communities, that we do all that we can to mitigate and reduce fatalities from disaster…..so these vulnerable communities are not left behind and they live to tell.”
Hon. Sovaleni also highlighted the average mortality rate from 2005 – 2014 according to the Centre for Research on Epidemiology and Disasters (CRED).
“The average mortality rate from 2005-2014 was 76,424 according to the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). Earthquakes/Tsunami account for 64% followed by Floods with 22% then storms at 7%; landslides at 6% and wildfire and others at 1%.
The theme ‘Live to Tell’ was broadened from stories of four disaster victims chosen from four major natural disasters that struck Tonga such as the tsunami on Niuatoputapu in 2009, Tropical Cyclone Ian on Ha’apai in 2014, the volcanic eruption at Niuafo’ou in 1946 and Troical Cyclone Waka at Vava’u in 2001.
Most of the victims talked about how they experienced these disasters unprepared.
Chief Nurse at Niuatoputapu, Paea Fifita a victim of the tsunami explained how she survived the tragic event.
“We were still sleeping when we felt the earthquake, after the earthquake we heard a weird loud sound. We didn’t expect a tsunami because there wasn’t any tsunami warning. But with my own knowledge I knew that an earthquake will be followed by a tsunami,” she said.
“One of my children went out and told me to come and take a look at the sea. When I went out I saw the sea boiling and at the end of the reef a big wave was formed, I knew at the time that there will be a tsunami.”
“I told them we need to run to the mountain. We ran and the first wave didn’t reach us. After the first wave a second wave followed, at first I was not afraid but when I saw the second wave coming towards us I was terrified.
Near us was a frangipani tree with three branches, I told them to hold on to the branches. When the wave hit us, it was too strong that we weren’t able to hold on to the branches.”
Fifita explained that the waves took them but luckily they survived the drastic event.
Fili Tonu Drama Group also entertained the crowd on the importance of preparing for a disaster.
Present at the program were the New Zealand High Commissioner H.E Sarah Walsh, Australia High Commissioner H.E Mr Andrew Ford, CEO for Tonga Power Robert Mathew, CEO for MEIDECC Mr. Paula Ma’u, town Officers, district officers and representatives from NGOs.