LAND use issues and human factors that contributed towards flooding have to be addressed urgently.
Acting director of the Secretariat for Pacific Communities’ (SPC) Land Resources Division (LRD) Inoke Ratukalou made the comment after being informed of flash flooding that occurred in Lautoka in the early hours of Wednesday after heavy rain pounded the Ba-Lautoka region for about two hours.
Just last week, Mr Ratukalou had addressed a group of senior journalists from the Pacific region undergoing an SPC-facilitated training program where he highlighted that climate change alone was not responsible for the devastation caused by natural disasters.
Mr Ratukalou said human activity had a significant role to play with unsustainable land use practices and development without thought to environmental impact.
“After the floods that the Western Division experienced in January and again in March this year, someone came up with a solution of straightening rivers to ease the flow of water out to sea,” he said.
“However, as we have seen, this did not produce the desired effect. Rivers naturally meander to slow down water flow and this is something that we have been trying to stress. It is important to maintain what was naturally created.”
Among the many issues that he raised during a presentation to senior journalists from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga was the importance of maintaining forests, for farmers to refrain from planting crops to the edge of river and creek banks.
“This increases riverbank degradation and leads to sedimentation and when we have periods of heavy rainfall then the risk of flooding increases,” he added.
Mr Ratukalou’s sentiments were echoed by Minister for Primary Industries Joketani Cokanasiga.
“We are taking the flooding issue very seriously with the urgent dredging of river mouths at flood prone catchment areas,” the minister said.
“However, the onus is also on the people to ensure they maintain good farming and sustainable land use practices because these factors contribute to flooding if done in an ad hoc manner.
“To get the message out about the importance of sustainable land use and best farming practice, our people from the Land Resources and Water Management Division are increasing their awareness efforts with farmers in flood prone catchment areas.”
Solomon Islander and renowned Pacific radio personality Walter Nalangu said flooding was a minor issue in his country but he was proud of his contribution towards improving the livelihoods of Fijian rural communities and addressing water run-off that contributed to soil erosion and flooding.
Planting a teak tree seedling imported from his native country at Narewa Village in Ra last week and visiting three rural communities in Nadi along with ministers and heads of agriculture and forestry services from 19 countries yesterday, Mr Nalangu said perhaps if more trees were planted and forests maintained then the impact of flooding in Fiji could be reduced.
Mr Cokanasiga, however, said therein lay the paradox.
On the one hand the MPI is mandated to ensuring forests are increased and maintained but on the other, the ministry is also tasked with ensuring agriculture was encouraged and production increased to feed an ever-growing population.
While addressing participants on the first day of the Nadi meeting, Minister for Local Government, Housing, Urban Development and Environment and acting Primary Industries Minister Colonel Samuela Saumatua lay down the biggest challenge faced by all Pacific Island countries and territories.
“The challenge is how to feed our new, urban populations when the experience of the intensification of agriculture across the Pacific has led to land degradation, deforestation and pollution of scarce water resources,” he said.
Senior journalists from the region experienced this firsthand when they visited Ra last week. The clearing of forest to make way for new homes and plantations had resulted in hillside degradation and soil erosion.
Villagers acknowledged that since they had begun clearing mangroves, shellfish that used to be a staple in their diet had all but disappeared.
Climate change exacerbated by human activity has resulted in increased land degradation and flooding.
As Vinesh Kumar from SPC’s LRD informed the senior journalists, “we cannot continue to blame climate change alone for the increased effects and impacts of natural disasters”.
“Everyone has to take responsibility for his or her contribution. Once we acknowledge this and take steps to reduce our impact then the possibilities of reducing the impact will become more evident.”