Protection committees to address needs of vulnerable groups in Tonga

Participants of the community protection committees in Mo’ungeTonga is working to enhance the protection of vulnerable community members in Ha’apai with new Community Protection Committees. Plans to establish the committees were prioritised by the Ministry of Internal Affairs following an assessment of Ha’apai after Tropical Cyclone Ian, which found more vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, the elderly, women and children often the worst affected by disasters.

Ensuring the active participation and integration of vulnerable groups in community-based protection committees aims to improve services available and enable the Government to better understand the root causes of vulnerabilities.

“CPCs are important so that people can develop a proper integrated community based protection mechanism whereby they can identify their issues and communicate them to the relevant services,” said Samuela Pohiva, Assistant Secretary of Local Government and Community Development and the Focal Point for the National Safety and Protection Cluster with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) – the lead agency in this initiative.

He added, “CPCs will provide a platform for people to support each other and ensure a highly improved living community for them.”

Six communities in Ha’apai will have new committees to be trialled soon, after training this month. The trial will continue for the next 6-12 months and if successful may be replicated nationally.

Each of the six new committees has five members, making a total of 30 people to be trained from 5-7 August 2015.

They will be trained to safely plan and monitor protection issues affecting vulnerable groups and to better collect information on protection trends, concerns and gaps in services to inform the National Safety and Protection Cluster. They will also be conduits for community members to access services.

Tongan communities already involve committee structures, which provide updates to the village and district councils on various issues. This is how the subnational and national governments are kept in the loop on community-level matters and progress.

“The Ministry of Internal Affairs will also be able to gather accurate information needed to provide services and also to advocate for more services to support the most vulnerable groups in communities.”

“People are keen to have CPCs in order to have a well-supported body so they can help each other in their communities,” Samuela said.

The groups will work closely with the National Safety and Protection Cluster, introduced after Cyclone Ian to protect vulnerable groups following a disaster event, whereas Community Protection Committees aim to monitor protection issues on an ongoing basis.

“As with any other community based committee, the Community Protection Committees will be owned and driven by the residents themselves, providing a link between the vulnerable groups and the national government,” said Sione Vaka, National Programme Officer for the UNDP Pacific Risk Resilience Programme (PRRP).

The PRRP is supporting MIA to establish the Community Protection Committees, and has already held community-level workshops in Ha’apai to help residents identify protection issues relevant to each of the communities.

PRRP works with Pacific Island nations and their people to consider the risks they face from climate change and disasters and include those risks in their usual plans for development. Communities can become more resilient to climate change and disasters if routine government, community and other planning processes takes these risks into account. This risk governance approach is delivered through a partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and international non-government organization Live & Learn Environmental Education (LLEE), and supported by the Australian Government. PRRP is being delivered in four countries: Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.