Climate Change | NEWS

Waterlogged Buretu Anticipates COP26 President Visit

This is the response of 83-year- old Sela Vosikata when asked about relocating. Ms Vosikata sits on her front porch, at Buretu Village, and remembers her young days. Cli­mate change was never an issue to talk about. Now, the reality of cli­mate change implores them to act.
24 Jul 2022 12:50
Waterlogged Buretu Anticipates COP26 President Visit
Manasa Sovaki at the seawall that was funded by the United States. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga-Tuisawau

This is the response of 83-year- old Sela Vosikata when asked about relocating.

Ms Vosikata sits on her front porch, at Buretu Village, and remembers her young days. Cli­mate change was never an issue to talk about.

Now, the reality of cli­mate change implores them to act.

Buretu Village elder Sela Vosikata, 83. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga-Tuisawau

Buretu Village elder Sela Vosikata, 83.
Photo: Kelera Sovasiga-Tuisawau

COP26 President Alok Sharma will visit Buretu Village next Wednesday. Ms Vosikata may get the opportunity to tell Mr Sharma her story.

As years go by, the land sings a dif­ferent tune as the impact of climate change continues to show its wrath to small communities like Buretu Village, in Nakelo, Tailevu.

“Life was good. Growing up in my teen years, we never saw the signs of coastal erosion or the rise in sea level. Now it has changed, and I fear that only time will tell the state of our village in years to come,” Ms Vosikata said.

If you walk around the village, one will notice the physical evidence of sea inundation as pools of seawater form under home structures and its surrounding areas.

“Whether it’s raining or not, as soon as it’s high tide, the sea water just invades the village ground,” Ms Vosikata said.

“Youths have tried putting a mixture of gravel and sand into these puddles of seawater to cover it up but in a few hours and days, the problem occurs again.”

In every problem that they have encountered, she said they had just been investing in temporary solu­tions.

“Because at the moment we need money and assistance to at least build a foundation towards a permanent solution.”


Ms Vosikata said the village al-ways had a strong bond with the sea, but climate change now left them with fewer choices.

“There’s a smaller number of fish in the sea and it has decreased in size compared to our days when the sea was our source of income,” she said.

Growing up, Ms Vosikata shared the long-lost ponds in the centre of the village, which was a hotspot for the village children.

Pointing from her porch, she said: “The freshwater ponds were right there where we would go swimming with the rest of the kids and enjoy our childhood days.

“But it had to be buried because our elders wanted to build a village hall, so it became a village task for everyone to get gravel and sand to bury these hotspot ponds.

“Everyone was hands on. Those were days when we didn’t have spe­cial machinery to hire. It was only our hands, the tools and resources we had.”

In 1975, the construction of the village hall was completed, and the ponds were no longer seen.

“We just did it because it was re­quired of us from our elders. But now, we are seeing the effects of what was done.”

Whether it rains or not, water still surface from the old freshwater pond site. Ms Vosikata believes it has something to do with the con­tinued flooding and seawater intru­sion of Buretu.

“When there’s a king tide, villages will have to use outboard motor boats to transport them around the village.”

“In 1964, there was a flood and we had to leave our belongings behind and go inland for our own safety. We had to save ourselves, but we returned when it was dry and safe.”


The village surroundings have de­creased in size too over the years, according to Ms Vosikata.

“The village compound used to be wider and longer in length. But be­cause of soil erosion, homes have been destroyed.”

Low-lying coastal communities like Buretu Village are vulnerable to the threats of sea-level rise, in­undation of tides, increased inten­sity of storm surges and coastal erosion. These extreme and sudden weather events have also forced villagers to leave their homes and move inland.

“I can clearly recall the three rows of houses that were built near our shoreline. Now, it’s no longer there,” she said.


When asked about her thoughts on the idea of relocating, Ms Vosi­kata stressed in her Tailevu dialect, “Warai! Warai! Me keimami toki tale ivei Buna?’ (No! No! Where else are we supposed to move to?)

One of the many Buretu Village hotspot ponds that were buried. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga-Tuisawau

One of the many Buretu Village hotspot ponds that were buried. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga-Tuisawau

Relocating communities involves much more than simply rebuilding houses in a safer location.

“We can’t move away from here. We will just continue to build the village closer to the roadside but relocating an entire village will be hard,” she said.

“We planted vetiver grass to help stop the erosion, but it was still a failure. There is nothing per­manent yet to assist us in living a sustainable life that can withstand climate change.”

Ms Vosikata is hopeful help will arrive soon, with the right people at the right time.

“Relocation is not an option, so we will stay put,” she said.


Manasa Sovaki’s home is located about two metres from the coastal bank.

The 65-year-old is thankful to the funded support from the United States embassy for the constructing a seawall that has helped them over the years.

“If it wasn’t for this seawall, my home too would have been de­stroyed,” Mr Sovaki said.

In early November 2012, the US­ Aids Coastal Community Adapta­tion Project (C-CAP) team visited the Rewa delta and met with lead­ers in Daku and Buretu communi­ties, documenting climate change risks and vulnerabilities faced by the residents.

The team members were engaged in continuous consultations with climate change stakeholders from the public, civil society, community, and education fields in each of C-CAP’s Year One countries.

By July 2014, the Riverbank Stabi­lisation Project was established in Buretu. It was a compact seawall infrastructure.

“It’s been eight years since the in­stallation of that project and it has helped prevent coastal erosion,” Mr Sovaki said.

Before the C-CAP project, villag­ers had built a concrete seawall.

“With whatever money we had as a village, we would repair the concrete seawall that was initially built by our elders, but it could not sustain the harsh impacts of rising sea level.”


As sea levels flood the coasts, salt­water can move inland.

This is called saltwater intrusion, which occurs when storm surges or high tides overtop areas that are low in elevation. For Mr Sovaki, his farmland has become a red zone for saltwater intrusion.

“Our farms are no longer what it used to be back in the days when vegetation was green and good,” he said.

Today, he said they must go into town to buy root crops.

“It hurts our pockets especially now that everything is very expen­sive. We are spending more money for quite less.”

The salinity of seawater intrusion in Buretu Village has caused veg­etation deterioration and land loss.

“We had big farms. Now, it’s just surrounded by water and the soil is not up to par to produce the good size crops we used to produce back in the days.”

Saltwater intrusion at Buretu Village. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga-Tuisawau

Saltwater intrusion at Buretu Village. Photo: Kelera Sovasiga-Tuisawau

Families, like Mr Sovaki’s, depend on agriculture and marine life as a source of income. He said gone were the days when they would catch and sell good size mud lob­sters (mana), sea crabs (qari), small crabs (kuka) and prawns (moci).

Now, his family sells coconuts and brooms as their daily income.

“We are not like other families who have well paid jobs. With what­ever we can get from what we can produce we continue to thank God and live each day as it comes,” Mr Sovaki said.

“There is a river that flows through the side of the village and when it rains, it floods the village entrance.

“If only we had a floodgate set up, it would reduce the flooding issue.”


British High Commissioner Brian Jones said the visit by the COP26 President would be a great opportu­nity to raise the profile of climate vulnerable countries and Small Is­land Developing States (SIDS) to a global audience ahead of COP27 in Egypt later this year.

Ms Vosikata said they have learned to adapt to the changing weather patterns now, but she was concerned about the country’s fu­ture generations.

Mr Sharma is currently wrap­ping up his visit to India. He will travel to Australia, then on to Fiji, to engage with governments, states, businesses and civil society in sup­port for stronger climate action ahead of COP27 in Egypt.


Advertise with us

Get updates from the Fiji Sun, handpicked and delivered to your inbox.

By entering your email address you're giving us permission to send you news and offers. You can opt-out at any time.

Rewa Diwali Promo Banner
For All Fiji Sun Advertising
Fijisun E-edition