20 April 2014
Standing shoulder to shoulder
The past couple of weeks have been exceptionally hard for Solomon Islands. The heavy rains and flash flooding were unprecedented. Homes and infrastructure were damaged and destroyed as rivers burst their banks.
Many Solomon Islanders lost their homes, food gardens, belongings and even loved ones. For those who have been affected, I offer you my heartfelt condolences.
I also want to assure you that Australia stands shoulder to shoulder with Solomon Islands at this time.
We are doing all we can to support relief and recovery efforts, working closely with the government. We’ve had five Royal Australian Air Force flights to deliver additional Australian personnel and emergency supplies. We have two Australian doctors helping the National Referral Hospital treat patients. Our civil-military engineering team has helped assess damage to vital infrastructure and, with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development (MID), plan repairs. When the 7.7 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit last Sunday, we chartered a plane to conduct aerial assessments of the Makira coastline. And we have provided funding to NGOs to hand out garden seeds and tools, help fix bore holes and school classrooms and to build community nurseries and green houses.
Of course our role is a supporting one – it’s the government that’s leading the response to this disaster. I want to acknowledge in particular MID, the National Disaster Management Office, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) and Solomon Water. Each of these agencies has shown exceptional leadership and action during this crisis.
I’ve also been impressed with the efforts of the business community in responding to the flood. Many businesses have been generous in donating their time, people and products to support the relief effort. It would be unfair of me to list them all, because I’m sure I’d miss some. But they know who they are and I hope their willingness to help the community is remembered and appreciated for a long time to come.
I’ve been immensely proud of the efforts of my fellow Australians – both those who’ve arrived in the past two weeks and those who live here – to roll up their sleeves and help out a neighbour in a time of trouble. Literally hundreds of Australians have been helping out in one way or another, some in their professional capacity and others as volunteers. It’s been a terrific thing to see and a reminder that the relationship between Australia and Solomon Islands is much deeper than just the formal relationship between two governments. The links between our two peoples, and our willingness to help each other, are perhaps our greatest asset.
Finally, my own team in the High Commission is exhausted after two very difficult weeks with long hours and a lot of pressure. They’ve done an amazing job and I’m proud of each and every one of them, Australians and Solomon Islanders alike. But there’s a long road ahead as we help Solomon Islands recover from this disaster, so we know the work isn’t done yet.
Andrew Byrne, Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands