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Adapt to changes

Mere Vaseva
Friday, April 20, 2012

The recent floods in the western half of Fiji left many people in shock with how destructive nature can really be. While many thought that the January floods were as serious as things could get a month down the line and we are made to eat our words because the worst was still to come.

Slammed as one of the worst floods to hit Fiji affecting more than 10,000 plus inhabitants with lives lost because of drowning, damages to homes, businesses, infrastructure, and agricultural loss, what really made it horrific is that it caught everyone off guard.

People had to brace for days of heavy rain yet no cyclone which was strange! It is for everyone to see that predicting the climate is becoming more and more difficult.

The issue of Climate Change (CC) has surfaced once again as a contributing factor to the recent devastation and a reason to believe why it is so important to put in place "adaptation" processes.

These processes need to engage whole communities so that they can look at options available to them and develop solutions to reduce their vulnerability to CC and effectively balance the needs and interests of a variety of stakeholders. It is important to increase people's skills and capacity in relation to CC impacts and appropriate adaptation activities for long-term sustainability. We need to start thinking long-term.

It is time for the relevant authorities to step in and look at things from a different angle because the climate is changing, fast. Though being resilient during difficult times is a sign of great strength and unity among people - it is definitely not the answer to the climate crisis.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007), adaptation is "the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic or their effects, which moderates harm or exploit beneficial opportunities".

CC adaptation in simple terms means actions or activities that people or communities can take collectively to reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of the global phenomena on both human and natural systems.

After witnessing the nature of the recent floods, there are several key areas that need to be looked into, to really be able to better position ourselves for future events like it.

The first area which needs attention is better strategic planning to integrate and implement adaptation initiatives into physical planning and policy process relating to agriculture and food security. Following that, there is a great need to put in place mechanisms to assist communities and building its people's capacity to deal with natural disasters.

And then, developing a sustainable land management project because it highly likely that future flood damage can exacerbate by changes in land use which have seen increases in the intensity of water run-off.

The flooding of drains because of weak drainage systems brings to question our own lack of responsibility and places us in a more vulnerable state when a natural disaster wreaks havoc. Relocating seems to be a possible solution, though it will be a costly exercise. But we do not want relocation to become our only option.

Rehabilitation of the land is important after deforestation especially in the highlands and along larger rivers in Fiji where logging and farming takes place, which in the long-term could reduce the impacts of future flooding.

Reducing deforestation also improves soil conservation to allow our natural ecosystems that absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) called "sinks", to take some of the excessive carbon out of the atmosphere.

We cannot predict the weather but we can take preventative and precautionary methods to be able to adapt to the catastrophic changes and reduce future losses of lives, reduce damage to infrastructure, and minimise the cost of rebuilding work.

Evacuation centres filled to the limit, hundreds of families displaced, fears over the rise in diseases, schools shut down, flights halted these are issues which made headlines in the media. People should start thinking seriously about the issue of CC with the recent flooding. We should not treat it as just a natural disaster but a threat because of the adverse changing weather patterns that Fiji and the Pacific region is now experiencing.

Investing into adaptation initiatives will allow us to understand the impacts of CC and also provide us with relevant knowledge and skills to appreciate and respect the nature and reduce our vulnerability to climate change.

Not neglecting the fact that there are other factors which also deteriorated the damage done by the floods; adaptation work needs to start now.

* Mere Vaseva is a climate advocate and a member of Project Survival Pacific. PSP is a regional youth environmental organisation that works to safeguard the survival of the Pacific island people from the impacts of climate change and to promote sustainable development within the Pacific.

For further information and clarification, please contact Project Survival Pacific's Communications co-ordinator, Kelvin Anthony on +679 9463700 or e-mail

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