October 21, 2013

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

October 14, 2013 Pohnpei, FSM -A performance audit of Pohnpei's Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction measures, particularly in regards to the southern outer islands of Sapwuafik, Nukuoro, and Kapingamarangi says that the State's efforts have been woefully inadequate. "Pohnpei State Government cannot afford to wait (to take) the necessary steps to improve its understanding, management and oversight on climate change issues," the audit which was conducted by auditors of Pohnpei's Office of the Public Auditor says.

Though the audit tends to focus on the efforts of Pohnpei's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and of its Emergency Assistance Office (EAO), it seems to do so by default and points out that Pohnpei has no office specifically charged with coordinating Climate Change responses.

The audit covers fiscal years 2008 through 2012 but Albert Roby, Executive Officer for the Environmental Protection Agency said in his official response that several important steps are in process now including proposed climate change legislation based in part upon landmark legislation that Kosrae adopted. He said that legislation is being reviewed now. On occasion auditors will remove findings from an audit based on the response of an auditee, but that doesn't appear to have been the case with this audit.

Auditors found that Pohnpei State did not ensure continuing compliance with the applicable provisions of the Multi State Hazard Mitigation Plan and the Nationwide Climate Change Policy. The audit says that EAO received one-off funding in 2005 to implement the hazard mitigation action under the national plan and developed the State Disaster Management Plan, an emergency response plan. Implementation of the projects never happened. "EAO does not see it as a priority," the audit says.

It says that in 2008, after the unusually high tide of 2007 EPA only performed an assessment of salt water intrusion and its effect on the crops for the southern islands of Pohnpei. EPA took several photos of coastal erosion and crops that were affected by salt water. "It did not use the result of the assessment to develop a plan that is specific to these islands," the audit says.

In his response Roby said that after meeting with the community and other stakeholders it developed plans to deal with climate change impact and planted trees there in order to help stabilize the islands and reduce climate change impacts.

It wasn't enough. "A follow-up assessment was done and indicated that further impacts were occurring as indicated by the evidence of continued erosion and (the) disappearance of some of the smaller reef islands," Roby wrote. He said that EPA provided a copy of the vulnerability and adaptation assessment to the Lt. Governor at the time. Auditors say that they could find no evidence of such a document. "There is no legislation, regulation or policy on climate change for Pohnpei State and the Disaster Management Plan has not been updated for seven years," auditors found.

It says that the Disaster Management Plan that EAO adopted in 2005 should have been reviewed and updated at least once every three years. Because it has not, the audit says that there is a risk that in an emergency situation related to climate change, the plan cannot be relied upon. "For example, it may not accurately identify who is in charge, the communication channels they should use, the emergency equipment available and (their) location(s), and appropriate emergency evacuation sites," auditors said.

Auditors also found that there was "ineffective management of climate change programs and activities." They said that EPA does not have a climate change adaptation plan, a business plan or any other planning process that involves stakeholders in the planning.

Roby said in his response that EPA did involve stakeholders in its planning. Auditors said that involvement was in 2008 and that they could find no evidence of continuing stakeholders involvement. "Our review of records and interviews with the local non-governmental organization, community representatives, and EPA personnel disclosed that EPA is lax in its responsibilities relating to climate change and is not taking the lead in initiating projects and educating the communities and the leaders," the audit says.

Though the audit standards were defined in the beginning pages of the audit, some of the comments within it do appear to be quite subjective.

"This lack of action by EPA and EAO occurred due to poor understanding and appreciation of how important and urgent it is for Pohnpei to respond to climate change, and from limited resources (human, funding, and capital) capacity to implement activities," the audit says.

As their fourth finding, auditors found that "project risk assessment, monitoring, and reporting to the oversight body are not performed."

Again, Mr. Roby responded that it had submitted reports. The Office of the Public Auditor could not find any evidence that such documents exist.

"There is a lack of documentation and information regarding climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction," the audit's fifth finding says.

It says that most of the materials they obtained regarding climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction were from the FSM National Government or other third parties, such as local and international NGO's. They apparently couldn't find much documentation at EPA.

"There is inadequate public education and awareness regarding climate change and its impacts," the audit says as its sixth and last finding of the performance audit.

It found that EPA is not actively involved in the climate change public awareness campaigns though it has a budget to do so. "Instead, the EPA depends on the non-government organizations to perform this activity," the audit says.

"We provided documents reflecting the numerous community meetings, radio programs, school visits and other awareness programs that have been and continue to be conducted by our office on this topic," Roby wrote in his response. "We hope to expand our efforts once funding has been received to develop a media center that would allow us to produce our own awareness material and thus enable us to expand our efforts."