Climate refugees; our sinking phenomenon
For many people around the world, the image of the Pacific is a tranquil utopia with white sandy beaches and palm trees, but today climate change is slowly eating up the islands.
Just last week, Pacific Islands leaders met in Nauru for the Pacific Islanders Leaders Forum summit, and signed the ‘Boe Declaration’, to reaffirm that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of the Pacific people.
But just 438 Kilometres North of the Solomon’s Capital of Honiara, in the Ongtong Java Atoll, time is running out.
Ontong Java Atoll or Luangiua is one of the largest atolls on earth and contains over a hundred small islands, but the two islands of Luaniua and Pelau host major villages.
The indigenous people of the islands are Polynesians and are heavily dependent on the ocean for their survival.
Last week SIBC visited the Atolls and witnessed first-hand the devastating effects climate change and sea level rise has brought to the Islands.
Communities say the rate of sea level rise over the years has increased dramatically, and brought with it new challenges.
The Chief of Pelau, 84 year old William Kameru said the curse brought about by climate change was first realised in the 1960s.
“When I was a child, I have never seen the ocean come this close,” he said.
“Every year the sea keeps on destroying each side of our Island, and I’m worried what our future will be like.”
Mr Kameru said the people of Pelau used to live on an island nearby called ‘Avaha’ a few years back, but had to relocate after huge tides destroyed parts of the island, their houses and other properties.
He said his community had to build sea walls with corals to protect their shoreline from the rising tides.
“We are now facing food shortage because the sea level rise has affected our Taro gardens,” he said.
“There’s no fresh water, because our wells are filled with salt water, we have tanks but they will be useless during the dry season.”
Due to the harsh circumstances, communities in the Atolls are now heavily dependent on supplies via ships from the capital city, but ships only go to the islands once in every six months.
In similar fashion, Luaniua Chief Peter Kalali also says his community is increasingly dependent on rice from Honiara as their food gardens are now inundated with salt water.
“Years ago our shoreline was further out, but today the ocean is just close to our door step,” he said.
“We need help now, our houses are being washed away, our ancestors graves have been washed away, as a chief this makes me so sad.”
Mr Kalali also said the island’s population is growing rapidly and the houses of chiefs have dealt with a number of land disputes in the past.
“In five to ten years’ time, there will be no land left for us to expand and for us to move to,” he said.
“ What the chiefs want is for the government to help us move to a bigger island, or even buy any piece of land in the big provinces for us to move our people there and survive.”
With the climate refugee challenge at hand, the chiefs of Pelau and Luaniua are calling on the government to act now in addressing their cry.
By: Lowen Sei.