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Climate change in Labasa

Osea Sokomuri
Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jotame Ratabua, a 73-year-old villager in Yadua Island in Bua, and Tevita Rokuta, 74 of Salevukoso Village in Druadrua Island, Macuata do not need scientific reports to tell them that the sea is rising and affecting their islands.

The beaches of their childhood are disappearing.

In Druadrua, an old village shop was no more, washed away by the rise in sea level; the two houses that are closer to the beach are on the verge of being washed away. Both the islands are under threat as evidence has shown coastal erosion taking place, claiming the beach forefront. Left behind on the beach where the coastal erosion has taken place are visible foundations of tree trunks.

Global Warming or Climate Change is the measurable increases in the average temperature of Earth's atmosphere, oceans, and landmasses.

Scientists believe Earth is currently facing a period of rapid warming brought on by rising levels of heat-trapping gases, known as greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere. Many believe that human activities are a major cause of global warming, which may have disastrous consequences for the climate and the environment. For example, large-scale melting of land-based ice and the expansion of the oceans as water warms could cause sea levels to rise drastically.

Low-lying islands such as Yadua and Druadrua, together with those living in coastal areas, could be greatly affected. Millions of people could be displaced from such places all over the world.

According to the website of SOPAC (Secretariat of the Pacific Community - Applied Geoscience and Technology Division): "There have been recent reports in the media that particular shorelines in Vanua Levu have experienced significant erosion from wave action since Tropical Cyclone Tomas in March 2010, threatening infrastructure and ancient burial sites. As a result, villagers have been advised to take into account global warming and to relocate to higher grounds.'

Cyclones are among the most frequently occurring natural disasters in the tropical Pacific, and they are characterized by high waves and strong winds. At the time of hurricane Tomas, ocean surface waves up to eight meters high were reported to inundate villages on Vanua Levu. Such an extreme event can lead to coastal erosion or accretion, depending on the configuration of the particular shoreline.

It is however difficult to imagine such large waves, and even more difficult to assess their impact without direct measurements in the location concerned.

It is happening, and the time to act is now; for tomorrow will bring about sadness and threat to the livelihood of people who live in low lying islands.

According to Pita Qarau, 49, a villager in Yadua: "The site of a line of houses which was on the beach about 10 to 20 years ago is no more and in five to 10 year's time, another line will be gone."

Iliesa Rakuka, 22, originally from Yadua Island is a final year geography student of the University of The South Pacific. Speaking from his home island where he is currently spending his first semester break, he said: "The coastline surrounding my island has been continuously exploited and threatened over the years due to the hazardous actions of industrialized countries. Global warming is not abstract science, but 'a daily reality' in here at home." What can the people do to try to stop the coastal erosion? People will now try to begin a war with the waves, which is often a very frustrating and expensive battle. The usual defense is a seawall either right at the water's edge or a few feet out into the water. Some small islands in the Pacific have spent thousands of dollars on these, only to have them demolished by the waves.

According to the 'Journal of Coastal Research,' 'A study of beach erosion and sea encroachment in the rural South Pacific was undertaken. On the basis of observation and interviews with elderly inhabitants of long-established coastal settlements, the coastal problems and countermeasures which they applied traditionally and recently were evaluated.' Beach erosion in most of Fiji became significant only some 40 years ago. The causes of this change are considered to be a combination of human-induced development and global sea-level rise. Though people tried to respond to it mainly by building seawalls, there are many inappropriate elements in design and materials. Suggestions are made to improve coastal protection and to address the threats of predicted future accelerated sea-level rise and climate change.'

Most villagers living by the coast believe that with the rising sea level in the recent past, it is feared that it will one day annihilate their villages. The villagers have reported that sea swells have claimed coconut trees that were planted along the shoreline with the beach front moving 25 to 50 metres inland.

There is a need for the people of affected areas to be united in this course of making a seawall for the benefits of the current and the future generation. The youths of Druadrua

Island were advised to make a temporary seawall made of stones along the beach to lessen the effects of coastal erosion. People have to plant mangroves along the coastline, and I sincerely believe that this is the best solution to their current problem.

For Yadua and Druadrua Island, something should be done as soon as possible. Most of the older generation did not care that much for most of them believe in the tradition of normalcy, for them life is when the sun rises in the morning and sets in the afternoon. The younger and future generations will suffer. A plea goes to all environmental awareness agencies to attend to the needs of the people living in drastically affected places before a monstrous calamity happens. We should all put our hands together for the sake of humanity and their resources.

*Osea Sokomuri is a Travel Writer based in Labasa.

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