Friday, January 16, 2009

Vinaka vakalevu Australia

picture from AP of Wailotua church under water
from w
As expected the Australian government has decided to give $3 million to assist Fiji in the recovery after the terrible floods. It's good to bypass the awukwardness of the relationship with the interim Fiji government and think of the humanitarian situation. Vinaka vakalevu Oz.
from Radio Australia yesterday:
Australia donates another three million for Aid to Fiji
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Updated Fri Jan 16, 2009 5:15pm AEDT

Australia has rejected claims its Fiji flood aid has been too little, announcing a significant increase in its contribution and signalling there may be more to come. Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says officials from the two countries have been in talks to work out the best way forward, since Australia's initial contribution of 150-thousand dollars to the Fiji Red Cross was announced earlier this week. Just days before Pacific Island leaders meet in Papua New Guinea to discuss Fiji's failure to hold elections, the Australian Foreign minister has also again said his country sees humanitarian need separately from any other issues between nations.

Canberra correspondent Linda Mottram

Australian Foreign Affairs minister Stephen Smith.

MOTTRAM: Australia is giving three Million Australian dollars to Fiji immediately, including the earlier contribution to the Red Cross. One Million dollars is for emergency food, water and sanitation, assistance with emergency transportation and shelter equipment .. the rest will go to initial recovery and reconstruction work.

Foreign minister Stephen Smith says its the result of talks all week between Australian and Fijian officials with assessments still going on.

SMITH: Whether a further contribution is required, whether a further contribution is appropriate, we will determine in the future. Firstly we need the flood waters to recede to enable a proper assessment to be done of the damage and the full extent of recovery and reconstruction.

MOTTRAM: And with initial, rough estimates that the damage bill will run into tens of millions of dollars, its clear Australia is expecting to make a further contribution.

And Mr Smith also rejected claims, including from the Fiji interim government, that Australia hadn't done enough soon enough.

SMITH: I it made very clear on Tuesday when I spoke about this matter for the first time since returning from christmas new year leave that we were doing three things. Firstly, we were making an immediate contribution to the Fiji Red Cross, and that was to enable emergency food and water and shelter provisions to be supplied. But it was also made to ensure that those stocks didn't deplete quickly. And our immediate contribution was to enable the Fiji Red Cross to not just dispense immediate aid but also to replenish its stocks and its stores. The second point I made was that from Tuesday our officials were in conversation with officials from Fiji to make a judgement about what further assistance was necessary or required. And I also made the point that if further assistance was required we would do that. A few days later I've made effectively a three million dollar announcement because we believe that is appropriate.

MOTTRAM: Mr Smith also again rejected any suggestion that political differences were a consideration in Australia's aid decisions.

SMITH: Of course we have a difference with the interim govt in Fiji, with Commodore Bainimarama's interim government and we want very much Fiji to return to democracy. But that has never stood and doesn't stand in the way of Australia continuing to render humanitarian assistance to Fiji when it is required. We very much want to assist the people of Fiji . We very much want to see Fiji return as a fully fledged member of the Pacific and of the international community and our judgements about humanitarian assistance are entirely separate from our judgements for Fiji to return to democracy.

And our High Commissioner and officials in Fiji today will be advising the Fiji authorities including the Fiji interim government ministers in relevant portfolios of the decisions that we've made in respect of the three million dollar announcement that I've made today.

MOTTRAM: Some of the aid will be handled through agencies of the Fiji interim government.

Mr Smith has named in particular the Fiji disaster management office and the Prime Minister's recovery and reconstruction trust fund, which Mr Smith says Australia is confident are audited rigorously.

Mr Smith also says agricultural reconstruction will be a priority for Australia's assistance, as it was after last year's cyclone in Fiji.

And though the immediate outlook for weather conditions in Fiji has improved, Mr Smith reminded travellers that it is the season for storms and flash floods.

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