SPC: “We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know”


Suva, Fiji – (Thursday October 31) – In his opening address at the Pacific Damage and Loss (PDaLo) Workshop, Timothy Wilcox, Sub-Regional Coordinator (Pacific) of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction began with the quote, ‘We don’t know what we don’t know.

This means that unless you actually try to find out things, you don’t know what’s out there. For example, if a river is prone to floods but you don’t know where the flooding happens then how do you know it floods?

Good information management enables responders and planners to identify where to invest and where to focus emergency services’.

With the theme of strengthening the understanding of PDaLo information management in the region, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC’s) Disaster Reduction Programme facilitated the workshop on 28 and 29 October 2013.

Regional participants agreed that government services were information-based so if information was constantly requested then it was quite reasonable to expect that there should be adequate resources and capacities made available to facilitate information management. The lack of data and available data that is not used effectively leads to inaccurate estimates and incomplete disaster risk planning, hampering timely disaster responses and diminishing damage and loss recovery and future investment. 

SPC’s Manager Natural Resources Governance, Paula Holland explained that, ‘Damage refers to something that has been physically broken like a collapsed bridge but the associated loss would be the loss of business caused by the broken bridge like not being able to get tourists to resorts or agricultural produce to markets. When damage and loss assessments are done, loss usually far exceeds damage costs’.

During his welcome remarks, Mosese Sikivou, the head of SPC’s Disaster Reduction Programme stressed the importance of accessibility to accurate information during disasters and emergency situations, as well as the need for skilled capacity to manage and maintain data and information systems. Having skilled information professionals is cost-efficient as they contribute to informed decision-making and continuous learning by discovering history and using statistics with analysis of raw data, patterns and trends. Participants felt that capacity building on national level should always be part of the terms of reference of any consultancy to ensure sustainability.

The PDaLo database can support decision-making by progressing from intuition and experience to evidence-based informed decisions. The impact of not having an information manager within agencies, especially when compared to time spent on searching for relevant information without the presence of dedicated staff can be significant and costly.

Michael Foon, the Policy Officer for Kiribati’s Disaster Risk Management Office affirmed, ‘PDaLo is a priority and Kiribati is finalising their national plan with a strategy to develop a database to be used by the National Statistics Office so PDaLO will be incorporated into that’.

Participants of the PDaLo workshop explored data and information sharing opportunities to optimise disaster risk management planning. This included systematic collection, quality, consistency, information flows before, during and after disasters, as well as links between databases and projects. Outcomes can strengthen the evidence base and improve the ability of key agencies to manage information underpinning disaster risk management in the region.