Pacific people must live with dignity: Cook Islands Speaker

From PCC

Fri 24 May 2013

Cook Islands
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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands ---Pacific people must be allowed to live in dignity on their own islands instead of relocating due to climate change, says Cook Islands Parliament Speaker Nikki Rattle.

Speaking at a regional climate change and relocation summit in Rarotonga, Rattle said relocation must be the final option for communities.

“There is no one way to do this. We must ensure that we look at every possible aspect of climate change and natural disasters before decisions are made to relocate people,” Rattle said.

“There are recent Cook islands experiences which show that it is important to be flexible when making decisions on whether people move from their homes to other areas whether they be within or outside their countries of residence.”

Rattle, a New Zealand-trained nurse, was speaking at the Nansen Initiative-Secretariat Pacific Regional Consultation on Human Mobility, natural Disasters and Climate Change in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. It is supported by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

This is the first in a series of international summits organized by the Nansen Initiative which is a joint effort of the Norwegian and Swiss governments.

Rattle said hundreds of people moved from Manihiki Atoll in the Cooks after Cyclone Martin claimed 19 lives in 1997 and never returned to their homes.

“It’s important that we move the injured people, pregnant mums and others seriously affected by natural disasters,” Ms Rattle said.

“At the same time we need to provide the survivors with food, water, shelter and other supplies but try to keep them (on the island) as much as possible.”

Rattle told the 50 delegates at the roundtable that survivors of natural calamities must be allowed – if they wished – to remain within their environments.

She said decisions on relocation could only be made after consultation with local communities and based on the type of disaster, extent of damage and availability of alternative sites.

In the Cook Islands, each island group has a hostel in the capital where islanders can be temporarily relocated.

The summit ends on Friday.

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