We are famous for our white sandy beaches and crystal waters in the Pacific but our region is also amongst the first to witness displacement of people caused by climate change.
Being at the forefront of climate change means for Pacific peoples that the risk of disasters such as cyclones, droughts, storm surges and landslides are predicted to worsen, with many communities already witnessing changed weather patterns. The Pacific has inevitably found itself also at the forefront of adaptation to strengthen its resilience: we are learning how to adapt to the risks brought on by climate change and disaster through navigating the challenges presented by it. The Building Safety Resilience in the Pacific (BSRP) Project, funded by the European Union and implemented by the Pacific Community, is a project that provides 15 Pacific countries, including Timor-Leste, with scientific and technical expertise to reduce the vulnerability caused by disasters and climate change, including the reduction of environmental losses, social impacts and economic costs. The reality of climate change and increased severity of disasters mean many communities are at risk of losing their traditional homeland, as tides chip away at the shoreline, sea levels continue to rise and inland communities are struck with disasters such as landslides; leaving many communities devoid of safer and more disaster resilient land. Recently, the BSRP project, in partnership with the Fijian government, assisted with the successful relocation of Tukuraki village, the first inland indigenous community to be relocated in the country. In Fiji, 600 communities have been identified for relocation from the impacts of climate change, Tukuraki Village is one of the 46 priority communities for immediate relocation. The story of resilience displayed by the people of Tukuraki village, amidst disasters, serves as a lesson for all, on the reality of what climate change looks like in the Pacific and how we, as a region, should adapt development practices to support sustainable development. One of the significant lessons of relocating an entire village is the impact it can have on traditional roles and cultural implications. The loss of land and how the adoption of new land affects the way people relate to their traditional practices and each other is a challenge that Tukuraki Village had to carefully navigate through during its relocation process. In January 2012, Tukuraki Village received more than 939mm of rainfall in three days, more than double the average monthly rainfall for January, causing a landslide that buried the community and tragically killed a family with two small children. The landslide decimated 80% of the village – destroying road access, water supply, homes and crops critical for the community’s subsistence living. The Mineral Resources Department which had to use a helicopter to access the remote village deemed it unstable for habitation and the community now had to flee their homes, just eight hours after the disaster. For indigenous Fijian communities, to relocate also means leaving behind customary land which are inextricably linked to their traditional practices and identity. Livai Kididromo, the village spokesperson said it was an emotional time for his community. “For almost two years we lived in different locations without our extended families,” he said. “As Fijians, the land is everything, it connects us to each other and it is what keeps us grounded. Through the land we know where we stand. When we lost our village, we didn’t know whether we would ever get it back. We were lost.” Fleeing their village fragmented the community: some moving to urban areas to live with relatives and others choosing to weather the storm and build temporary homes along the narrow edges of roadway, in the hope the community could rebuild. However, their doubts and fears about the future of their village worsened when they were hit by Cyclone Evan (Category 4) 11 months after their initial displacement (2012) and in 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston (Category 5), the strongest ever recorded cyclone to devastate Fiji’s shores, destroyed their makeshift village. These multiple disasters forced the community into caves where they lived for weeks, to protect themselves from the destruction
Aerial shot of Tukuraki village
Livai, the village spokesperson Tukuraki - Honey Boxes as part of the sustainble livelihoods project implemented by the Fiji Government