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Nadi underwater by 2030

Solomoni Biumaiono
Sunday, April 15, 2012

TO MOVE or not to move. This is the question that is currently playing in the minds of the fathers of the Jetset town of Nadi right now. Even though it is too early to address it as clean up efforts are still taking place, some of Nadi's prominent citizens clearly know that one way or another, they will have to address this issue in the very near future.

The Nadi Chamber of Commerce president Doctor Ram Raju himself admitted that this is something that will be on the minds of Nadi residents.

"After this particular incident, many will want to re-consider moving the town to higher grounds. I am saying that is what many people would be feeling right now," Dr Raju says.

With the bad memories of the January floods still fresh on their minds, the citizens of Nadi were put under siege again last week by flood waters, again, losing more lives and more property in the process. Adding the equally catastrophic flood of 2009 and inundation of the Nadi town area in 2007, counts the number to one flood too many.

Added to this, is the knowledge that the dredging of the Nadi River that have been undertaken to prevent further floods, has clearly been ineffective against floodwaters.

The debate of relocating the Nadi Town area to elevated lands is not new and was in fact started by Geography professor Doctor Patrick Nunn who revealed that Nadi, Labasa and Navua would be underwater by the year 2030.

Dr Nunn's view was once branded by a Nadi businessman as anti-development for Nadi, something he greatly refuses to accept.

Replying to emailed questions from Sunday Times, Dr Nunn reiterated his earlier stance, saying that rising sea levels along with the sinking of the Nadi river delta, where the Nadi town sits on, will see the town underwater by the year 2030.

"The flooding problem is going to worsen in Nadi over the next ten years and after that. This is because the sea level is likely to continue rising and the land on which Nadi is built is likely to continue sinking, there is no evidence that either trend will halt or reverse. The issue on which you may care to focus is the sea-level rise, which is a result of climate change. Thus Nadi, like atolls in Tuvalu and Kiribati, is becoming one of the most visible victims of global climate change in the Pacific islands," Dr Nunn says.

Dr Nunn's study of the sea level in the Nadi area shows that the sea is 25 centimetre higher in 2012 than it was in 1900. He adds that data from the Fiji Hydrographic Office's Lautoka tide gauge shows that sea level has been rising in the Nadi area at a rate of three to four millimeter per year for several years now.

On the sinking of the Nadi town area, Dr Nunn says this is normal for deltas because they are composed of loose particles that will gradually sink to be compacted.

"It is my opinion, which I have held for a long time, that sea-level rise is the overwhelming cause of the increase in flooding in Nadi. Given that sea level is likely to continue rising (it may rise another 110 cm by the year 2100) in the foreseeable future, the only long-term adaptation option for Nadi (and similar coastal settlements, like Labasa and Navua) is to be relocated to higher ground. Diverting the mouth of the Nadi River will (in my view) make no difference to the situation," he says.

However, the Nadi Chamber says that the proposal to relocate Nadi town is one that has to be carefully considered.

"The concept of relocating is not really good for many people, especially to those that own properties and those who have businesses," he says.

"We have discussed this issue several times already in the past."

The issue has been a point of discussion between the Nadi Chamber and the Nadi Town Council and former Nadi Chamber secretary Rakesh Chandra says they even wrote to government seeking solutions based on Dr Nunn's previous report but nothing substantive has come out of it.

"It was nothing major, the issue was only discussed in a small forum and I heard it in the media. It was only in a small forum between the Chamber and the Nadi Town Council and nor was it discussed at length and no priority was given to it.

"But we did discuss it and based on his (Dr Nunn) report, we wrote to a government department, I think we wrote to the DNR (Department of National Roads) seeking solutions based on his report," Chandra says.

The Ministry which is in charge of the Nadi flood mitigation project is in fact the Ministry of Primary Industries through its Land and Water Resource Management Division (LWRMD).

In an email, in reply to Sunday Times questions after the January floods, LWRMD director Collin Simmons ascertained that Government will only consider relocation if alternative land is available to move the town to.

"The Integrated Flood Risk Management approach recognises that high level of investment in floodplains, and the lack of alternative land in many countries, means that abandoning flood-prone areas cannot be a viable option for flood damage reduction," Simmons says.

Part of this integrated flood risk management approach is to dredge the Nadi River and this took place immediately after the 2009 flood in the Western Division.

An 8.5km section of the Nadi River was dredged, from the river mouth right up to the Nadi town bridge to the tune of $7.9million and with 1.1 million cubic metres of soil removed from the river system.

Simmons says during January floods, the Nadi River dredging works has been effective by increasing the capacity of the river to quickly discharge flood waters. Their records show that floods waters were drained within 15 hours from the normal period of 24 hours.

Other strategies government plans or is already undertaking to mitigate the threat of flood to this tourist town include water catchment management, proper land use planning, flood plain zoning and regulations, hazard and risk mapping, building codes and flood proofing infrastructure, flood forecasting, disaster preparedness and ecosystem conservation to preserve natural resources.

Dr Nunn still maintains that despite the best efforts to undertake environment conservation or reconstruction, or undertake the best flood preparedness, Nadi town will definitely be underwater in the future.

"But this is not something that happened only 10 years ago, so we cannot blame flooding on the deforestation of the river catchments. For the same reason, replanting the catchments with trees is unlikely to make a significant difference to the flooding problem in Nadi.

"Again this is not a problem that began only 10 years ago when flooding began to get much worse and more frequent in Nadi, so we cannot expect that dredging river channels is going to make much difference to the flooding problem in Nadi. In fact, dredging is largely ineffective; the "hole" made by three years of dredging in river channels like these can be filled up in three hours of flood," Dr Nunn says.

As the centre of Fiji's tourism industry, it goes without saying how much the two back to back floods have cost the country's top dollar earner in terms of lost bookings, cancelled flights and infrastructural damages to businesses.

However, one thing that Dr Nunn and the Nadi Chamber agree on is the need to address this issue in an holistic manner.

"I would add that in my opinion there should be some effective planning for the relocation of the most vulnerable parts of Nadi to some higher location in the hinterland. Obviously, such planning should involve local stakeholders, government and probably donor partners. In my view, relocation is inevitable. The sooner it is planned for, the easier it will be to do," Dr Nunn says.

"The wider picture needs to be talked about by all stakeholders," Dr Raju says.

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