Biketawa Declaration to address COVID-19

Pacific Islands Forum leaders have invoked the Biketawa Declaration to collectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as a major crisis to The Blue Pacific – its peoples, wellbeing and economies.

As an immediate priority, Forum Foreign Ministers met virtually yesterday to establish a Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19, following two weeks of consultation with senior officials, regional agencies and development agencies through the Forum.

The Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 (PHP-C), under the Biketawa Declaration, is the Region’s mechanism that will provide the enabling political environment and commitment to expedite assistance and cooperation between member countries in preparing for and responding to COVID-19. This is by enabling the provision of medical and humanitarian assistance from regional, international and development partners in a timely, safe, effective and equitable manner.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health emergency of unprecedented scale. It poses a real and extreme danger to the health and security of the Pacific peoples. Never before has the full Forum Membership simultaneously been in crisis,” said Kausea Natano, Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum and Prime Minister of Tuvalu.

The Chair of the Special Foreign Ministers Meeting, Simon Kofe of Tuvalu, said responding to COVID-19 as a region reflected the Tuvaluan concept of te fale-pili, which literally means houses in close proximity to one another and which implies a moral responsibility to protect neighbours. It also went to the very essence of The Blue Pacific Way, where, in times of hardship, we help each other and ourselves to get through times of distress – together.

“The Biketawa Declaration recognises that in time of crises, all actions must be taken on the basis that all members of the Forum are part of the Pacific Islands extended family. This, I believe is the Pacific way,” he stated.

“It is with this agreement by our leaders to invoke the Biketawa Declaration that we gather, albeit virtually, to consider the proposal for a Pacific Humanitarian Pathway for COVID-19.

“This could include expediting medical assistance, expediting customs clearance of medical supplies and facilitating diplomatic clearances for chartered flights and commercial shipping.”

The PHP-C will be overseen by Forum Foreign Ministers, supported by a Regional Taskforce of Forum Members, the Pacific Community (SPC), the Forum Secretariat and relevant CROP agencies, the World Health Organisation and other relevant UN agencies, and regional law enforcement and legal agencies.

Press release