FIJI is a developing country with a population of less than a million, of which 90% are traditional rural villagers who live close to the coast.
Tourism is the main foreign exchange earner followed by remittances coming back from Fijians overseas.
One-third of Fiji’s 332 islands are inhabited and geographical isolation is an important influence on the country’s economic development potential.
According to the fifth assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change, natural disasters in Fiji are increasing in frequency and intensity.
The damage being caused is reflected on Fiji’s economic growth, which further impedes development.
While its own greenhouse gas emissions contribute less than 0.05% to the global total, Fiji is poorly positioned to cope with the impact of changing climate.
Our communities experience shoreline and river bank erosion, water shortages, water table contamination, reduced food production, depleting fish stocks, sea level rise and more outbreaks of vector-borne diseases due to climate change.
The displacement or forced migration of coastal villages is now all too common and, so far, three coastal villages have been relocated further inland.
While attending a forum on disaster risk reduction and climate change in Fiji in 2014, I met Sailosi Ramatu, the headman of Fiji’s first relocated community, Vunidogoloa village.
His emotional statements carried the cry of his people, who had been forced out by surging waves and encroaching seawater especially during king tides.
In his speech during the forum, Ramatu mentioned the need to explore alternative renewable energy sources to lower the world’s carbon footprint. He stated plainly and strongly that developed countries should stop polluting our world.
According to senior Fijian politician, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, 64 more villages are scheduled for relocation in the next few years. The associated environmental, social, psychological and economic implications are profound.
While working on climate change projects in communities including my own village, Matainoco, I developed keen interest in the magnitude of the impact.
In my own village in Tailevu Province, food production has been affected by saltwater intrusion exacerbated by riverbank erosion and a reduction in fish stocks in the mangroves and the river itself.
Damage to culturally significant sites is irreparable and they are irreplaceable. Food sources are declining and, over the next 10-15 years, we will be substantially forced away from agriculture and fishing to dependence on the nearby town.
In some cases, nearby villages have had to raise building foundations due to frequent flooding at high tide. In Nabouciwa, a 20 mt walk from my village, houses have been built on stilts and huge drainage systems dug within and around the village. These are costly undertakings but the people are desperately trying to avoid relocation, at least in the short term.
My work in the Ba watershed in the west of the main island has exposed the vulnerabilities of communities.
The increased intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones, with the associated rain and wind, has increased the number and scale of landslides with upper communities more exposed and vulnerable.
There is also greater downstream siltation with accompanying increased risk of inundation for lower watershed communities.
Keeping the global temperature from rising beyond 1.5 degrees of the pre-industrial level will save my community, its resources and provide hope for our next generation.
Our current experiences are dire and the current prolonged stagnation in global negotiations only intensifies the impacts we currently experience and make us very concerned that there is much worse to come.