De­fi­ant res­i­dents face up to coastal flood­ing

Fiji Sun - - Cop23 Fiji - SHEL­DON CHANEL Edited by Karalaini Waqanidrola Feed­back: shel­don.chanel@fi­jisun.com.fj

Sea wa­ter in­trud­ing into the homes of res­i­dents in an in­for­mal set­tle­ment out­side Lami town bears the fin­ger­print of hu­man ac­tiv­ity.

Dou­bly wor­ry­ing for them are the waves of rub­bish that ac­com­pany the tides, leav­ing them ex­posed to ob­vi­ous health risks and clog­ging wa­ter out­lets.

The set­tle­ment, nes­tled against mangrove trees on the Queens High­way, is one of many sit­u­ated along the coast out­side of the cap­i­tal city.

Peo­ple set­tled near coast­lines have in­creas­ingly be­come vul­ner­a­ble to a recorded up­surge in ex­treme weather con­di­tions and ris­ing tides.

Sala­seini Lave has lived in Wailekutu Qoya for 15 years and said her hus­band and three chil­dren stay in­doors dur­ing high tides.

“We raised our house on posts to avoid wa­ter en­ter­ing our homes,” Ms Lave said.

“It worked for a while but dur­ing Cy­clone Win­ston last year, half our house was un­der­wa­ter,” she said.

De­spite the ob­vi­ous dan­gers lit­er­ally present at the fam­ily’s door, the 34-year-old is de­fi­ant.

“I’m wait­ing for my lease – I don’t want to leave this place,” she said. Wailekutu Qoya is home mostly to fac­tory and dock work­ers, many of whom have come from vil­lages seek­ing bet­ter job op­por­tu­ni­ties in the ur­ban ar­eas.

The set­tle­ment is crowded and its de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions with hastily built houses, care­less dis­posal of rub­bish and re­cur­rent tides and in­clement weather in­creases its vuner­a­bil­ity to mul­ti­ple health risks and fre­quent in­un­da­tion.

Tokasa (prefers to be ad­dressed with one name), a grand­mother has lived in the Wailekutu Qoya set­tle­ment for 30 years; she is con­fused.

“It wasn’t like this when I was young,” the Waiqanake vil­lager said, look­ing up at the dark, gray skies.

“I re­mem­ber not so long ago when Novem­ber was usu­ally a hot month, but just look at the weather now,” she said.

“I see on TV peo­ple talk­ing about cli­mate change and I only un­der­stood what they were say­ing af­ter wit­ness­ing the changes in the weather pat­terns and sea lev­els my­self.”

Ms Tokasa gri­maced as she said: “We can’t do any­thing now. It’s out of our hands.”

That seems to be the con­sen­sus in the set­tle­ment; most seem re­signed to their fate.

“Sadly, many of these com­mu­ni­ties do not have ac­cess to sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion on the haz­ards that they can un­der­stand,” wrote Jes­sica Da­tor Ber­cilla, a cli­mate change re­searcher, on her blog.

Ms Ber­cilla works on re­silience, cli­mate change adap­ta­tion and dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion for the Manila Ob­ser­va­tory, a not-for-profit re­search in­sti­tute in the Philip­pines.

She wrote: “Un­for­tu­nately, for many of the com­mu­ni­ties, there is no time to adapt and, thus, losses and dam­age will be the con­se­quences.

“What lit­tle time other com­mu­ni­ties have, they must use to en­able re­silient house­holds, ecosys­tems, in­fra­struc­ture, lo­cal economies, and so­cial cap­i­tal in the most ef­fi­cient way and with in­no­va­tions that are cal­i­brated ac­cord­ing to the power of pro­jected cli­mate change haz­ards.”

De­for­esta­tion

Many res­i­dents say they have re­cently spot­ted uniden­ti­fied men cut­ting down mangrove trees in the set­tle­ment, pre­sum­ably for fire­wood.

Mangrove forests im­i­tate the func­tions of coral reefs, ac­com­mo­dat­ing a di­verse and pro­duc­tive ecosys­tem of ma­rine or­gan­isms.

The trees also cater to hu­man needs, with goods and ser­vices the World Wide Fund for Na­ture (WWF) es­ti­mates to hold a worth of $USD186 mil­lion. Unchecked re­moval of these trees of­ten re­sults in dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects to the coast­line, which is al­ready be­ing wit­nessed in Fiji.

At COP23 in Bonn, Ger­many, Min­ster for Fish­eries Semi Koroilavesau re­vealed that Fiji loses $52 mil­lion a year in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor from coastal flood­ing.

Out of their Hands

The res­i­dents in the set­tle­ment, like mil­lions of oth­ers around the world, rep­re­sent the vul­ner­a­ble ma­jor­ity at the mercy of cli­mate change and its haz­ards.

As in­for­mal set­tle­ments are still tech­ni­cally il­le­gal in Fiji, its res­i­dents do not have ac­cess to of­fi­cial as­sis­tance.

They have tried col­lec­tively to mit­i­gate the im­pact of the tides by clump­ing to­gether blocks of soil de­signed to keep out at least some of the wa­ter.

But it has had lit­tle to no ef­fect. Peo­ple like Ms Tokasa and Ms Lave face a ner­vous and pro­longed wait as our lead­ers con­tinue to at­tempt to garner as­sis­tance from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Ms Lave said: “I love stay­ing here but I think it’s time to con­sider leav­ing my home.”

Photo: Shel­don Chanel

Many res­i­dents say they re­main in­doors dur­ing high tides as sea waters en­gulf parts of the set­tle­ment.

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