Climate Refugees?

By Samisoni Pareti

May 2013

Fiji Business
Share this article

More coastal villages may have to relocate
due to eroding shorelines and coastal flooding

Threats of landslides have delayed the relocation plans of two coastal villages that have been badly affected by coastline loss and frequent sea flooding.
The Fiji Government has set aside more than half a million dollars for the relocation of Narikoso village in Kadavu and Vunidogoloa village on Natewa Bay in Vanua Levu.
“Planning on moving the village of Narikoso in Ono, Kadavu, went very well until it was discovered that the land on the new village site has stability issues,” explains Colonel Apakuki Kurusiga, Deputy Secretary in the iTaukei Affairs Ministry.

“Everyone in the village had agreed to the move with a particular landowning unit willingly offering a piece of land for the new village site, but preliminary tests have shown that the proposed site is prone to land slips.
“More works needed to be done before the greenlight is given for the people of Narikoso to abandon their coastal village site and move inland, up on the slope of a hill, about a kilometre from their present location.”
Local media reports say a total of 27 homes make up Narikoso and the government had allocated $200,000 for their relocation.
Colonel Kurusiga didn’t mention it but FIJI BUSINESS believes that land erosion fears had also hampered the relocation of the other village that is under threat from rising sea level, that of Vunidogoloa, on the shores of Natewa Bay in Cakaudrove.
A local journalist who has been to the village says technicians from the Department of Mineral Resources are conducting more stability tests at the new Vunidogoloa village site.
Here, the government has allocated a budget of $360,000 to relocate 30 homes.
Funding is based on the government’s project financing equation of 75% by government and 25% by the villagers.
For Vunidogoloa, the villagers according to a recent Fiji Times report have met the one-third cost of the relocation by offering their forest to be logged for timber to be used for their new homes as well as volunteering their labour.
Each new home the newspaper says costs $15,000 and is equipped with solar electricity and piped water.

Cost of relocation

In Narikoso, the village is planning a number of fundraising activities to help with the cost of relocations.
“The village community has come up with ways they can assist in the funding of the project,” the Fiji Government’s Climate Change Unit (CCU) told this magazine.
“This includes holding a Narikoso Day this year where the village community will fundraise to help meet the total cost of relocation.
“So far, the Prime Minister’s Office has spent close to $200,000 in carrying out earthworks on the new site.
“It is important to state that for any relocation activity, it needs the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders, including government, development partners, NGOs, donor agencies and the communities themselves.”
One of these stakeholders is the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) working closely with the Methodist Church of Fiji.
The faith-based organisation said its intervention on the “spiritual aspects” of relocations was sought by the two villages.
The PCC—through Climate Change Officer Peter Emberson and British volunteer Dr Julia Edwards— documented activities, community fears, their history and conducted workshops on the effects of climate change and relocation.
“We found the communities to be quite knowledgeable about climate change because of the huge exposure to the issue through vernacular newspapers and radio talk-back shows,” Emberson said.
“What we did was to link the communities with the relevant experts in order to prepare them for the realities of relocation.”
The PCC adds their assistance in Narikoso was sought by a Narikoso village elder, Kelepi Saukitoga.
“There were similarities in the challenges faced by both communities and we talked them through the processes—the need to redraw village boundaries, find new forms of revenue and the need to involve women in discussions,” Emberson said.
“We addressed the move from reliance on fisheries to subsistence farming, the social impacts with access to television and mobile phone services at the new sites, the need for clean water sources and healthy communities.
“The villagers saw that the move meant more than just a site change but there were far-reaching consequences which needed to be addressed.”
These included the longer walk from the new Vunidogoloa site for women who would go fishing or foraging for food and firewood.
At a National Climate Change Summit in Labasa in 2012, the PCC was asked by the Environment Ministry to facilitate the learning experience.
It sought financial assistance from GIZ to fund Saukitoga’s attendance.
Saukitoga related how the hastily flattening of the new village site in Narikoso without it being first stabilised had been a waste of time and money as well as a cause for frustration.
His appeal for assistance drew from the PCC’s Moana Declaration—the centre of which is a human rights approach to fishing rights, land ownership, social justice and community welfare.
This means a phased relocation moving the most vulnerable first, ensuring the elderly are cared for, meeting the spiritual needs of the displaced and providing food and water sources at the new site.
Since then, GIZ has helped Fiji—through the Climate Change Unit—develop a relocation policy based on the lessons from Narikoso ad Vunidogoloa.
In late 2012, the people of Vunidogoloa had requested spiritual guidance and reassurance, specifically that they be addressed by a senior minister of the Methodist Church.
“Basically they wanted to know where the church stood in relation to their displacement,” Emberson said.
“They wanted to hear from someone in authority in the church, so we helped facilitate that for them.”
Methodist Church Deputy General Secretary Reverend Dr Epineri Vakadewavosa visited the community last month to reassure villagers and offer biblical perspectives to relocation.
The visit was facilitated by the PCC through a funding partner, the Methodist Church in Britain.
Emberson said the community was satisfied with the visit and was ready to proceed with relocation.
The Climate Change Unit is now under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and will be coordinating all climate change work in the country.
It is headed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Director of Political Affairs and Treaties, Esala Nayasi.
In responding to several questions sent to the unit by the magazine, the Climate Change Unit admitted that accessing climate change adaptation funds under the United Nations umbrella has been difficult.
“The concern that continues to be raised by SIDS (Small Islands Developing States) in terms of their limitations to secure funding is due to several reasons which include complexities of mechanisms in place to access such funds, cumbersome application procedures for funds, lack of capacity in the area of climate financing and difficulty faced because of the multilateral nature of the funds which to a large extent is an impediment and compromises national development priorities.”
The unit is also coordinating relocation of communities affected by the adverse impacts of climate change and it has been liaising with various public agencies including the iTaukei Affairs Ministry and the Engineers Corp of the Fiji Military Forces on new sites for Vunidogoloa and Narikoso.
“A taskforce team comprising 27 people was mobilised to Narikoso from the 3rd to the 10th of April to conduct assessments and to identify the needs of the village of Narikoso.
“The team returned with a list of recommendations and a work plan of the steps that will have to be undertaken to facilitate the relocation of the village to the new site.”
When exactly the people of Narikoso will move to their new village site, the CCU cannot say.
It can only say for now that technicians from the Department of Mineral Resources are doing further “stability” tests on the new site.
The site is terraced and carved from a hillside overlooking the current village location.
“The same taskforce team will be consulted in the development of the relocation guideline.
“Lessons learnt/model from the Narikoso village relocation project will be used for other village communities that will be relocated, including Vunidogoloa (in Vanua Levu).
“We hope to finalise a relocation guideline soon, which will guide our work in any relocation activity in the future.
“This will ensure there's no gap and that work is carried out comprehensively by all relevant stakeholders to address all the concerns of the community including social, economic and environment issues of the communities concerned.”


The Climate Change Unit acknowledges that it has been working very closely with the iTaukei Affairs Ministry on matters relating to the impact of climate change on coastal communities.
“The iTaukei Affairs Ministry has provided the CCU a list of villages in danger of relocation if significant adaptation projects are not implemented within the next 5-10 years.
“We should be able to confirm the total number of villages that need to be relocated within the next 10 years once we have carried out the necessary assessments of these villages.”
Asked for his views on this new phenomenon, Colonel Kurusiga told FIJI BUSINESS that relocation for any community is a highly culturally sensitive matter.
"For generations, a community has come to identify with the piece of land they have called home, and in these they have stored their history, their genealogy and their very being. When you consider the devastation caused by the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2001 in the Indian Ocean and then look at the Rewa Delta and all the villages by the sea, all of them are vulnerable and under direct threat.
“These low areas will be flooded in the event a tsunami strikes and all their traditional and cultural and heritage knowledge are under threat.
“So it is by no means an easy exercise for these coastal communities to leave their “yavu” and relocate. Where shall they relocate to is another crucial question to consider,” adds Colonel Kurusiga.
The senior government official says because of the sensitivities, the iTaukei Affairs Ministry likes to see relocation of any coastal community as the last resort.
Attempts should be made first to save or rescue the coastline before any consideration is given to moving people further inland.
For the Climate Change Unit, a guideline on relocation is being formulated that will help guide future planners in government and civil society.
Once completed, the guideline will be added to the National Climate Change Policy of the Fiji Government.
“We have come to realise that until the people we serve begin to take an interest and take ownership of the policy, it remains what it is, a lifeless plan without a focus,” Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amena Yauvoli said at a climate change workshop in Suva last March.
“For this to happen, we need the media because it speaks the language best understood by the people.
“It can breathe zeal and life into our policies and help us tell of the many stories and experiences about climate change our people confront on a daily basis.”
In addition to the relocation guideline, the Climate Change Unit has just completed a major profiling exercise in which climate change ‘hot spots’ in Fiji are being identified.
“The main objective of the exercise was to map out the different communities in Fiji that are vulnerable to climate change impacts based on the vulnerability and adaptation assessments conducted by both the unit and its relevant partners.
“Three project staff were involved in the collection of information and then transferring all these information onto a topographic map of Fiji.
“On the map, you will find the location of the vulnerable sites, location of vulnerable sites with climate change projects on the ground, what sort of climate change projects are on the ground, location of vulnerable sites with no projects on the ground, communities that have not been assessed at all and distribution of climate change project types.”
From this nationwide profile, the Fiji Government will prioritise areas that require urgent adaptation works that would help mitigate against the adverse impacts of climate change. The unit will also identify partners including non-governmental organisations that would be able to lend a hand.
In addition to this, the unit says it is developing guidelines on funding and coordination, as well planning on hosting the second national climate change building resilience sum

« More articles from May 2013 edition

...or view more articles related to these topics:

...or try these related articles: