Forty-two staff from the public sector and civil society organizations participated in a two-day training workshop to learn how to prepare for natural disasters, with emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable people in Palau from threats like climate change, typhoons, and droughts.

The workshop, funded by the Government of Japan, was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), along with the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) and the Bureau of Aging, Disability and Gender (BADG), and focused on implementing safety and relief practices which take into account people of different genders and social statuses. The sessions looked at ways to provide shelter and resource assistance to vulnerable people when disaster strikes, as well as to ensure that information makes its way to those with limited access to it.

The seminars referenced Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which wreaked severe damage to houses, infrastructure, and food supplies across Palau, but especially in more remote locations like Kayangel.

“When a disaster happens, the impact on vulnerable people will be smaller if surrounding people take care of them,” said Ambassador Akira Karasawa of Japan at the opening ceremony of the workshop on Wednesday morning. The Ambassador stressed the importance for communities and especially workers involved in national risk management to think about and prepare for disasters during peaceful times, so that they can address the needs of everyone when a disaster strikes.

The workshop continued through Wednesday and Thursday at West Plaza Hotel, and included participants from organizations like the Palau Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Pacific Community (SPC), and Omekesang Association of Palau.

The training was part of an Enhancing Disaster and Climate Resilience Project funded by a partnership between the Government of Japan and the United Nations, which began in March 2019. The $7.5 million donated from Japan has been used so far to fund a series of project phases including the installation of VHF and HF radio in the Southwest Islands, the development of a LiDAR digital mapping project to survey for areas in Palau most under threat from natural disasters, and procurement of disaster-prevention equipment like mobile storage units and vehicles.

Mr. Levan Bouadze, Resident Representative of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, who joined the opening ceremony virtually, said that disasters “increase the vulnerability of those who are already in socially or economically difficult conditions”, using the current pandemic as an example.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been exacerbating existing poverty, inequality, and discrimination in many aspects of society,” Mr. Bouadze said.

Vice President Uduch Sengebau Senior stressed the need for gender mainstreaming in Palau’s policies, to make sure that “whatever project we have—even legislation—meets the needs of women, men, girls, and boys”.

“In my experience going through the different states, I could see that women and men have really different responsibilities when it comes to disaster-management, and we need to address those,” said Vice President Senior.

The sessions examined steps which government entities take before, during, and after a disaster strikes, and ways which these entities can accommodate different needs of people, such as securing separate shelters for women and children, as well as special shelters to house those with disabilities. 

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