Suva, Fiji, August 23, 2022: Ministry of Revenue and Customs Tonga supported by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), Oceania Customs Organisation and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs held a workshop last week to share experiences and discuss ways it responds to natural disasters.
This is a follow up to a similar workshop by OCO in November last year, which was to help members develop their standard operating procedures in the event of natural disasters.
“In the Pacific, we are quite familiar with natural disasters. Exacerbated by climate change, we have experienced natural hazards such as cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tidal surges, landslides, droughts, and volcanic eruptions, in addition to epidemics or in the case of COVID-19- a pandemic,” OCO Acting Head of Secretariat, Irma Daphney Stone said.
“Earlier this year, the volcanic eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai which was the largest recorded since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 just showed how vulnerable we are to natural hazards.
Workshop participants shared their experiences during the volcanic eruption and discussed ways of improving responses.
Tonga already has a legal framework which provides for exemptions on the importation of relief goods to address disaster areas for a period of six months. The legal framework also caters for citizens that are affected by the disaster to import relief goods within one year. However, a challenge Tonga Customs is currently facing is the development of guidelines for import procedures for relief consignments.
IMPACT’s Ms. Virginie Bohl informed the workshop participants of their experiences on importation of COVID-19 vaccines.
There were challenges faced by humanitarian organisations when importing relief goods into a country such as the lack of a focal point, lack of clear standard operating procedures (SOP) and the lack of co-ordination between the different government organisations.
Possible solutions identified during the workshop was for Tonga to have a collective approach, with the government and non-governmental organisations working hand in hand for the good of Tonga. It was also recommended that Tonga to ratify international conventions, especially the Revised Kyoto Convention.
Disaster preparedness and response is a regional challenge and not confined to Tonga alone.
When disasters occur, cross-border trade rules applicable to consignments containing humanitarian assistance – particularly for highly regulated items such as foodstuffs, medication, medical equipment, vehicles and telecommunications – are complicated by the imperative need for speed, the unfamiliarity of some donors with local rules, and the disruption of normal procedures.
Given its position at borders, Customs plays a key role in facilitating the expeditious movement of goods sent as emergency humanitarian aid.
In the Pacific, a set of guidelines on disaster management and supply chain continuity has been developed which OCO’s 23 members can follow during natural disasters.
WCO also guidelines that were finalised and approved by the WCO Council during its 138th Sessions, which are updated when required to reflect possible new inputs or contributions from Customs administrations and stakeholders.
For countries using the Automated Systems for Customs Data (ASYCUDA World), there is also a module Automated System for Relief Emergency Consignments (ASYREC), that assists in the lodgment, clearance and movement of disaster goods with expediency.
“The ultimate objective of this tool is to save lives. Delays at the border with formalities may be long in some countries. We all know of the Pacific time. In case of response to humanitarian crisis, the volume of maritime and air cargo may increase tenfold, and relief goods may be released too late, or even never reach the people in needs,” Mrs. Stone said.
For more information, queries, or interview requests, please email MediaOCO@ocosec.org
About OCO: OCO is a grouping of 23 customs administrations in the Pacific region. It facilitates regional cooperation, information sharing and capacity building of its members with the overall target of supporting economic growth and improved border security in the Pacific.