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Fiji Time: 11:00 PM on Thursday 24 April

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Sacrifices for the future

Pardeep Lal
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

After the Japan tsunami, residents and decision makers of some coastal towns and coastal settlements in Japan are contemplating moving to higher ground. The devastating impact of the horrific tsunami shook the whole nation leaving authorities speechless. Scientific pursuit to predicting the next tsunami falls short of providing precise information for the next tsunami. Hence people do not want to take chances as they have been through the last devastating one. Southeast Queensland discovered that poor land use planning resulted in huge losses. The Lockyer valley which was one of the worst hit by the 2011 floods, has plans for relocation. The regional council has designed a relocation policy (named Grantham relocation policy adopted on May 11, 2011). Relocating towns is nothing new.

Globally there is evidence of relocation of towns and settlements to avoid future losses. Bega in NSW was relocated to its present location after 1851 flood which killed 17 people. Gundagai town NSW was relocated after 1852 when 36 per cent of its population drowned. Clermont, a mining town in Queensland was relocated after 1916. (Source: Lucinda Coates, 2012). The call for relocation does not mean that because these towns were relocated so we should also consider relocation. It is the dreadful and inevitable situation locally that warrants us to relocate.

In Fiji, flooding in the Western Division especially in Nadi has opened the eyes of many residents and business owners. The obvious solution to severe flooding of low-lying settlements and towns is relocation. Given Nadi's geophysical characteristic and the climatic projections especially on sea level rise, it has become increasingly necessary to formulate feasible plans and act now. The strategy and decisions should not be so much for the benefit of the present generation but really it should be for the future generation meaning that long-term measures need to be considered. The present generation must learn to make sacrifices for future generations. We cannot leave behind an unsafe and risky environment for them to tread on and tackle because of our own greed.

The relocation process

Relocation involves considerable planning. It involves planning of a new site and rehabilitating and restoring old sites for best possible use which will incur the least damage from future flooding. Preparation of a new site would involve identifying safer land, some clearing, planting and soil erosion control, infrastructure provision, subdivision and for towns would involve zoning. Relocating a town does not involve shifting the existing buildings. Rather it involves shifting services. Setting up of bus stands, markets, bakeries, banks, shops and supermarkets to a safer location will see growth in the new centre. This growth will attract more businesses and more services will eventually be established over time.

Restoring old site

Old sites may be left with fewer services. Naturally, it will become deserted over a few years. However, if the old site has potential, it may be turned into an income-generating centre. In the case of Nadi Town, it can be converted into one of the largest ecoparks in Fiji. Local flower gardens, monuments, forest park, tree houses, games courts, traditional and cultural activities (eg meke and walking on hot lovo stones or vilavilairevo), and handicraft centres at higher safer levels are some activities that can be set up. These activities will incur the least damage when compared to turning it into a residential area. But in order to develop it into a feasible centre, it will require lot of willpower of the people who own properties in Nadi Town. One of the reasons that may not be allowing people to move is that they have business interests (own buildings) there and would be losing out if they move to a new location. Government assistance in relocation is necessary. In the longer term, they will benefit and so will the nation and its future generations.

Move for relocation

Certainly, it is not easy to ask people to relocate from a familiar site. However, finally we all have to come to terms with the hard fact that it is necessary. Historical evidences suggest that people have moved from initial sites, from highlands to lowlands and so forth. They made some hard choices and moved. This generation has to make some hard choices for future generations. The movement this time will not be over miles. It may be just a few metres away. In some cases, a few hundred metres. They will still have access to their former site depending on the arrangement.

The question of who wants to move and who does not, should not take precedence. The fact is government must not allow huge losses to be incurred during each flood. Governments anywhere cannot afford to continue to provide millions of dollars of subsidy for recovery after each disaster unless their economy is large and growth is continually positive.

It is pleasing to know that Semo and Narata villagers in Nadroga are prepared to move to higher location. I salute the great wisdom of the elders in these two villages who have made the idea of relocation possible and understandably, government stands ready to assist them. Old settlement sites can be used for gardening or preserved as historical sites and stabilised by planting trees.

The objectives of disaster prevention are to promote prevention, control and predict natural disasters. Disasters have always posed major problems and hindrance to growth and development. Short-term solutions, popular choices and being emotional hinders progress and the same issues will emerge each time a disaster will strike. Vulnerability analysis is an important component in any development project. The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific rightly stated that disaster prevention is not merely the preserve of technical sectors such as public works and building and that there is a long road to cover between policy and technical implementation.

One major factor to consider in flood diversion is to ensure that the benefits at one point are not offset by increased damage elsewhere. Would someone give any guarantee that after the $250 million river diversion, there will be no more flooding of Nadi Town and nearby areas? If there is an assurance, I would then agree wholeheartedly that this project should go ahead. If after river diversion, floods do occur in town and affect business and the national economy, I hope the State is not blamed by the business community for poor planning. Hence it is important for the government to commence development of Namaka and provide options to businesses to set up operations. Namaka has huge potential of becoming a town. At the same time, other safer locations need to be established as Nadi is fast becoming a major centre and attraction in the South Pacific. At this point, I may be able to guarantee that relocation to safer, higher ground will help solve much of the flooding problems of lowlands and delta areas we now face.

If thorough planning is not undertaken, then disasters will go on taking exacting a heavy toll, whether it be seldom or frequently. Changes are sometimes hard to accept but people need to eventually come to terms with it.

* Pardeep Lal is a lecturer at the Fiji National University's Labasa Campus.