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Climate Change: An Uncertain Future Awaits the Villagers of Vunaniu

‘I am so worried, especially with the cyclone season starting now. My people have already begun moving deeper inland to escape the waters’   With COP23 set to begin today,
06 Nov 2017 16:09
Climate Change: An Uncertain Future Awaits the Villagers of Vunaniu
Atunaisa Mocelutu , Turaga-ni-koro Vunanui Village of Serua explain the effects of climate change in their village and surroundings on November 04, 2017 . Photo: Ronald Kumar.

‘I am so worried, especially with the cyclone season starting now. My people have already begun moving deeper inland to escape the waters’

 

With COP23 set to begin today, the turaga-ni-koro of Vunaniu Village in Serua waits anxiously for its outcome.

Atunaisa Mocelutu’s village is located on the coast just outside Suva and is constantly encroached by sea water during high tides and heavy rain, leaving its inhabitants in a precarious position.

Mr Mocelutu blames climate change.

He said: “I am so worried, especially with the cyclone season starting now. My people have already begun moving deeper inland to escape the waters.

“During high tide, the water is sometimes deeper than the entire height of our village. It wasn’t like this twenty or even ten years ago.”

Fiji, as part of one of its core aims at COP23, will lobby for the creation of climate change resilient communities around the world, including adaptation to extreme weather events and rising sea level.

Vulnerable communities – such as Vunaniu Village – eagerly await the outcome of the high-level discussions, through which our Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, as president, hopes to form a Grand Coalition against the devastating effects of the global issue.

“I commend the Government of the day and the PM for the presidency of COP23 because climate change is real and it is affecting my village right now,” Mr Mocelutu added.

 

Dependency

Vunaniu villagers depend on the ocean for their income. Many lives have been shaped by it in what largely has been a give-and-take relationship.

In 2007, the village placed a 5-year tabu (ban) on fishing in its waters to aid the upkeep of its marine population.

Mr Mocelutu said the villagers’ catch multiplied almost tenfold once the ban was lifted.

Fishing yields have since then declined.  This has led to fresh worries for a population of nearly 500 residents.

“Yes it makes sense and is likely to get worse if effective measures to regulate catches are not implemented,” said Professor Ciro Rico, Head of School Marine Studies at the University of the South Pacific.

“Climate change is only one factor in a tandem of habitat degradation, overfishing, ocean acidification, pollution, and ecosystems shifting functions.”

At Vunaniu, residents know, with wood being used for basic fuel, and no visible cars or motor boats aside from a solitary four-wheel drive used to ferry people and supplies up and down the gravel road, they are contributing very little to climate change – yet face the full brunt of its consequences.

In 2014, according to the World Bank, Fiji only contributed 1.3 metric tonnes per capita in global CO2 emissions, a rise of just 0.1 metric tonnes from the year before.

“At this very moment, I am concerned about the villagers of Vunaniu and the effects of climate change,” the Turaga ni Koro said.

“Yesterday, I noticed water entering the village during high tide; when I went to check its depth, it was almost up to my knees.”

For the fishers and farmers of the village, climate change is not some distant idea larger countries constantly debate; it is an urgent reality.

The February 2016 severe Tropical Cyclone Winston is a case in point. It wreaked havoc on the nation, killed over 40 people and caused damages worth 30 per cent of Fiji’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

With a worried look on his face Mr Mocelutu said: “I remember how, during TC Winston last year, we had to leave our homes and move to a neighbouring village further inland because the water started entering some houses.”

The headman understood that without bigger countries pooling together resources in assistance of smaller ones like Fiji and other developing Pacific Island nations, the future of his people remained uncertain.

A neighbouring mataqali (clan) has already donated a piece of land to the villagers and relocation has commenced.

“A few non-governmental organisations have visited us wanting to help, but none have returned after the first visit,” he added.

“I have attended many workshops and seminars on climate change too, but none of that can help us on the ground here. It’s of no use to us.

“So, we formed a national disaster team and everyone fundraised close to $2000 and hired an excavator to dig a channel on the side of the village to help divert the water away during high tide.”

Mr Mocelutu sits staring seawards with a solemn look on his face unsure of how to break the news to his people – that soon the land they have called home for generations will be invaded by the sea.

“Thirteen people have moved to another spot already.

“We don’t want to leave – this is our home – but we have no control over what is happening,” he said.

Edited by Rosi Doviverata

Feedback:  sheldon.chanel@fijisun.com.fj

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