Rising Seas, Rising Fears
Residents of Vunidogoloa, a village on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu, in 2012 became the nation’s first community to relocate due to climate change. The village had 26 homes. It sat only metres from the coastline. With four decades of a higher tides and heavier rainfall, Vunidogoloa found itself at the mercy of encroaching seawater. Migrating to higher ground offered the only remaining option for the community and its residents. Six years after that historic village relocation, the islanders of Beqa, off Viti Levu’s southern coastline, are also slowly witnessing the drastic effects of climate change unfold subtly before their eyes. “When growing up as a young boy, I remember the beach was a few metres out. Now it has moved inwards and eaten up parts of our village boundary,” Pita Kauyaco said.
Now 52, and Soliyaga’s village headman, Kauyaco fears sea level rise may threaten villagers’ survival in the future as climate change becomes more drastic and extreme. “We have been witnessing the effects of climate change over the past 10 years. In recent years in particular, these have worsened, and we can only imagine what can happen in the future,” Kauyaco said. Elders built Soliyaga’s first seawall some 20 years back to stop seawater from encroaching into the village’s fresh water spring. It was fortified some years ago but strong rolling waves have breached parts of the seawall and caused heavy silting of a small creek that runs through the village. “In school I went only to class eight. I had no dreams of working outside the island and getting a good job. However, as an ageing village headman I want my children and other village children to prosper, get an education and find well-paid jobs,” Kauyaco said. “I have two children. One is studying agriculture at USP while my younger one works at Lalati (Beqa’s Lalati Resort & Spa). Due to climate change their future and their children’s future will be threatened if elders today fail to do something about it.” A government team that visited Soliyaga recently has indicated its willingness to help villagers adapt to challenges brought about by climate change.
Minister for Waterways and the Environment, Dr Mahendra Reddy, estimates that $15 million will be needed every year over the next 10 years to effectively protect villagers and their communities by constructing and maintaining seawalls. “We will do it. It is just a matter of time,” Dr Reddy said. For Soliyaga, whose people largely depend on subsistence farming and fishing for survival, raising the height of the seawall by 0.5 metres and repairing breached portions of it will give some form of relief, security and protection.
Lalati, well known for its connection with Lalati Resort and Spa, is well sheltered by Malumu Bay, a cove fringed with mangrove bushes and palms. For some time now, its seawalls have not been exposed to strong ocean waves like other villages on Beqa. However, flat land is scarce as rocks and mountains strangle the village right at its boundaries. “Our fathers built our seawall which we fortified about four years ago. But with rising sea level and climate change we will need to move to higher ground,” said headman Wame Turagabaleti. “The village boundary has become too small for our increasing population.” Lalati has 25 houses and a population of 140 people. The people of Lalati also need classrooms to house the lower streams. Currently, village children from as young as class one stay separately from their parents in boarding facilities in another village to attend school. Government will look into bulldozing higher areas of the village so that it can extend inland. Moves to have school facilities for classes 1 to 4 in the village have also been mooted.
Nawaisomo is Beqa Island’s biggest village, with 52 households and a population of 257 people, 96 of whom are school-age children. This village is also slowly facing the brunt of climate change. “We need to raise the height of our seawall to prevent
seawater from eroding our village boundary,” said Mosese Saqanavere, the village’s representative to the Rewa Provincial Council. “We also have three heavily silted drains which get flooded during heavy downpours.” Government is considering building a floodgate along the seawall to allow outflow of water from the creek and prevent seawater intrusion during high tide. The village seawall will also be raised and breaches repaired. There have also been discussions to have boulders on the shoreline to protect the seawall.
The people of Rukua have been experiencing the gradual erosion of their village boundary by strong waves and silting of village drains. “We clean our village drains regularly because waves pile up sand, coral, stones and debris during high tide. The village boundary adjacent to the seawall is slowly eroding,” said headman, Orisi Cagilaba. “It is evident that we are slowly facing adversities of climate change.” The seawall at Rukua, a village made up of 53 families and170 peoples, sits on a 15-mtre width of reclaimed land. Government has indicated it will protect the seawall by having breakers on the shoreline and will install more water tanks for storing much needed water. “The development of rural maritime areas is one of our priorities. Due to the impacts of climate change we also want to protect villagers by allocating finances for the construction, repair and fortification of village seawalls,” Minister for Waterways and Environment, Dr Mahendra Reddy said. “We want people to experience comfort in life, earn a livelihood and in turn contribute to national economic development.” Dr Reddy said while some seawall projects on Beqa may be carried out using money in the 2018/2019 national Budget, others will be factored in the following budget year (2019/2020).
Children of Dakuibeqa Village (photo source:repicore.zmt-bremen.com)
Lalati Village green, Beqa
Government team in Nawaisomo (photo source:Fijivillage.com)
Beqa island as seen from Viti Levu (photo source:en.wikipedia.org)