(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
Rising sea levels have prompted the Fiji government to relocate one of the country’s most vulnerable seaside communities.
Around 50 families have been relocated to higher ground to escape frequent flooding.
The government says it expects to carry out more relocations within the next decade to help communities adapt to rising sea levels.
Brianna Piazza reports.
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Until only weeks ago, around 140 people lived in the seaside village of Vunidogoloa, on Fiji’s second biggest island, Vanua Levu.
But rising sea levels have left the community’s 50 families with little choice but to permanently move to higher ground just over two kilometres away.
Locals say rising tides were flowing into the village, damaging houses and destroying crops.
Senior government official Alipate Bolalevu, says more than 600 villages across Fiji have been identified as threatened by rising sea levels.
More than 40 settlements are expected to be relocated within the next 10 years.
Mr Bolalevu says relocating is a difficult decision for people who don’t want to leave their traditional land.
He says it’s also an expensive process, with the Vunidogoloa project costing about 600-thousand dollars.
“It is the first project of its kind in the South Pacific and for Fiji. The most important factor is the will of the people and if they are willing to relocate to another location given their spiritual attachment to their land where their ancestors have lived for some time.”
Mr Bolalevu says those communities that can’t be relocated will receive assistance to help minimise the risk.
This includes constructing sea walls and planting mangroves near the coast to limit erosion, which is compounded by rising sea levels.
Australian volunteer worker Kiri McGrath spent seven months living on Fiji’s Motoriki Island.
She says recent years have brought more frequent floods to the island.
“The island is one of the smaller islands in Fiji with only about 200 people on it. People on the island live off the island and if they do have money it’s from going to the main island to sell their produce or some of them work in the factories. So in the past five years the sea level had moved in by about five metres. It has come right up close to where all the houses are now, so some houses have actually had to be moved inland. If it’s high tide when the kids are going to school their tracks are flooded so they can’t always get to school and people can’t get to the hospital.”
In a report last year, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that sea levels would rise between 26 and 82 centimetres within the next century.
Most of the increase is attributed to the ocean expanding as it warms.
Coastal geomorphologist from Melbourne University Dr David Kennedy says many Pacific Islanders may be forced from their homes because of rising sea levels.
But Dr Kennedy says his own research in Fiji shows some may be able to adapt as sea levels increase.
He says that depending on an island’s foundations, sand can sometimes shift to other parts of an island.
“Some islands with historical sea level rise can actually adjust if there’s enough sediment around to do that. On the flipside, some of the islands may disappear a lot quicker. As we raise sea levels more waves can get across the reef. So some these islands might not necessarily disappear completely but even if you don’t drown you’ll still be losing your house because the island shoreline might be shifting 100 metres somewhere else.”
The aid organisation, Oxfam, warns Pacific Islanders will be among the world’s first people to be displaced due to sea level rise.
Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change project manager Taito Nakalevu says the international community’s failure to reduce carbon emissions is unfairly burdening the Pacific Islands, which are poorer and have fewer resources.
“We need to have another agreement that should take over from the Kyoto Protocol that should be legally binding to ensure there is a reduction in emissions from our developed countries. It’s been way over 20 years now and some countries are going back on their agreements. We as Pacific Islanders need to maintain our countries and we don’t want them under water. We don’t ever want to be climate refugees.”