NEWS

Government, NGOs Now Recognise, Understand Our Needs Better Than Before

Jay Nasilasila says, there is now more concerted efforts by Government and non-government organisations to understand the needs of people living with disabilities during natural disasters.
29 Jun 2022 17:10
Government, NGOs Now Recognise, Understand Our Needs Better Than Before
Community members from the Rewa province celebrating the International Day for Persons with Disabilities on December 4, 2021. Photo: Fiji Disabled People’s Federation

Jay Nasilasila says, there is now more concerted efforts by Government and non-government organisations to understand the needs of people living with disabilities during natural disasters.

Mr Nasilasila works as the disaster risk reduction officer for the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation (FDPF) for years.

He helps people with physical challenges like himself access the help they need.

“One thing that stood out for me was inclusive engagement for our organisation and others in this area,” he said.

Jay Nasilasila.

Jay Nasilasila.

“They hear about our expertise in disaster work.”

Mr Nasilasila highlighted that decision makers at the national level, which was the National Disaster Management Council, were starting to be inclusive while taking into account the challenges faced by them at the height of a storm.

“They have complete understanding of the needs of person’s living with disabilities, especially mobilising responses for our use.

 

“They make sure that persons with disabilities are supported,” he said.

In 2018, there were 113,595 people who belong in this community.

They make up 13.7 per cent of Fiji’s population, according to the Government.

These findings from the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.

 

Mr Nasilasila points out three organisations they believed have upscaled the participation of community members which are:

The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS) and The Fiji Red Cross Society The above organisations were headed by women when the work started to ramp up in 2018.

Director NDMO, Vasiti Soko, and Executive Director FCOSS, Vani Catanasiga still hold the leadership positions while director general of the Fiji Red Cross Society, Ilisapeci Rokotunidau resigned early this year for medical reasons.

“I see them as motherly figures of nursing a child which in this case, is making sure that we are recognised,” Mr Nasilasila said.

 

NDMO

The organisation coordinates disaster operations when they are activated by the Government through the national disaster controller which is the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Disaster Management.

Ms Soko said inclusivity has always been a priority for the organisation, all in the mission to save lives.

“This means you’re engaging in consultations, engaging in meetings, and sharing when there is a workshop done around key policies that’s being developed, ensuring that there is a presence from the disability sector,” she adds.

“Inclusivity has always been a core element of disaster management and ensuring more participation from them was what had contributed to this work.”

Litia Naitanui from the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation at the Tavua Disability Inclusion Emergency and Tavua branch annual general meeting on November 13, 2021. Photo: Fiji Disabled People’s Federation

Litia Naitanui from the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation at the Tavua Disability Inclusion Emergency and Tavua branch annual general meeting on November 13, 2021. Photo: Fiji Disabled People’s Federation

Mr Nasilasila highlighted that some evacuation centres were not built to work in their favour.

For this, Ms Soko said these were schools that had no plans of being operational as evacuation centres during disasters.

“Most of the evacuation centres are schools while others are community halls,” she said.

“However, we are working with some of our partners to ensure that we retrofit some of the evacuation centres to ensure accessibility to those living with disability.”

She said the groundbreaking work they had done led to the establishment of the Emergency Operations Centre for community members.

 

“We started more discussions around inclusion, not only in the evacuation centres, but also in the revised policies that are being developed the disaster volunteer manual, which is still in draft form, the Community Based Disaster Risk Management manual and other policies are now being developed to ensure that there’s always a voice from our disability family,” she said.

The director ensured these policies were included into evacuation centres.

“We are working towards ensuring inclusive evacuation centres that are now being built,” she said.

“A key component of that moving forward is ensuring accessibility to these evacuation centres for persons with disability.”

 

FCOSS

According to Ms Catanasiga, work towards ensuring persons living with disability are looked after began in 2018 before getting a boost at the national level from the NDMO.

They were part of the team reviewing the National Disaster Management Act that guides the work of disaster operators.

“In the process we tried to involve not just regional organisations and national NGOs, but tried to get community-based organisations involved as well,” she said.

“That’s where the aspects of inclusion started and people felt that we needed to be intentional about inclusion, particularly for people living with disabilities, the elderly, children, because these are during times of disaster.”

Residents of Lokia in Koronavia crossing the flooded the Koronavia road on December 18th 2020. Photo: Leon Lord

Residents of Lokia in Koronavia crossing the flooded the Koronavia road on December 18th 2020. Photo: Leon Lord

She said they have noticed a drop in terms of complaints lodged from community members while seeking shelter at evacuation centres.

The organisation gets data from their Community Observation Reports they often conduct.

The organisation receives calls from stranded people requesting for help whenever a storm worsens.

Disaster preparedness in Fiji remains to be one of the priorities by the Government.

 

Recent events like Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016 killed dozens of people and left many in disbelief and most of them traumatised.

The Minister of Disaster Management always highlights the tragic event whenever talking about disasters.

It shows people what mother nature can do at its worst.

 

He recently participated at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, stressing the need for disaster preparedness.

“Climate change is the single-most important security threat to our existence,” the minister said.

“We are not threatened by geo-political competition.

 

In our blue Pacific continent, machine guns, grey ships and green battalions are not our security concern,” he said.

He highlighted that climate change threatens Fiji’s dream of prosperity including persons living with disability.

“Waves are crashing at our doorsteps, winds are battering our homes, we are being assaulted by this enemy from many angles,” he said.

 

Feedback: josefa.babitu@fijisun.com.fj

  • The Fiji Sun would like to thank FDPF, ABC International Development and the Australia Pacific Climate Partnership for their support for this story.


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