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Fiji Time: 1:40 AM on Friday 25 April

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Change takes shape

Margaret Wise
Friday, December 13, 2013

TRAVELLING along coastal Ra, it is hard to imagine that the beautiful serene beaches that outline the region have become a threat to some communities.

Rising sea level, unpredictable weather and storm surges has eaten away the coastline, threatening nearby homes.

This week The Fiji Times visited villages in the province, covering the work of Partners in Community Development Fiji and the Pacific Community Integrated Disaster Risk Reduction. The teams were conducting awareness campaigns in the Navitilevu District on disaster preparedness and implementing the Child Centred Climate Change Adaptation (4CA) project.

The awareness program, led by PCDF project officer Watisoni Lalanavanua, Peni Seru and PCIDRR community consultants Taina Naivalu and Susana Kolofiu, focused on ensuring that community disaster management committees were active and well prepared — and that children were educated on climate change adaptation.

The four villages visited were Veidrala, Nasau, Nayavuira and Navuniivi.

We joined them at their second stop and it was evident that communities such as Nasau were a longstanding witness to the effects of global warming.

"The impact of climate change is really evident in this village," said Mr Lalavanua.

"They are one of the vulnerable communities where everywhere you can see the effects of rising sea levels."

Proof of this was depicted by 79-year-old Kameli Bulinalulu who revealed the drastic changes that rising sea levels made to the village.

He said the current village hall situated by the beach used to be in the middle of the village.

"More than 40 years ago, the village had more than 10 houses that existed on what is now our beach," he said.

"There used to be coconut trees and we had a lot of land where we planted cassava, yams and vegetables but all of that has been eaten by the sea."

He said Nasau used to have about 70 houses but this was reduced to about 30.

"The first major disaster I witnessed was in 1952. Houses were destroyed, trees uprooted. From there the sea level started to rise and more disasters came that affected our village."

Turaga ni koro Jone Tabakaucoro said the village used to have a population of 250.

"We now have only about 20 families," he said.

"The situation of climate change and rising sea levels is very real to us."

While the future of the village might seem dark, some ray of light has been shed on the once thriving community.

The PCDF 4CA project has been instrumental in involving children in adapting to the changing weather.

Mr Lalanavanua said the project assisted children in disaster preparedness and to learn what to expect when growing older.

"They know that 40 years ago the village hall used to be in the heart of the village, and now it's by the beach.

"What we are trying to teach them is to prepare for what their village will look like after another 40 years," he said.

Mr Lalanavanua and Mr Seru designed the project to also include elders in passing on traditional knowledge to youngsters.

"During our workshops we have elders and children. We encourage our elders to pass on their traditional knowledge to the younger generations especially knowledge of the weather and signs of incoming disasters."

He said the project also encourages villages to devise traditional solutions that would reduce the impact of the eroding sand.

"By constructing a fence made up of strong mangrove stems along a home that was situated by the beach, and then putting rubbish within the barrier, they were able to trap sand that was carried onto the shore by waves.

"Some elders informed us that this was an old practice."

Another measure implemented by the village was the construction of a much stronger and stable evacuation centre.

Mr Tabakaucoro said the elevated evacuation centre cost the village about $40,000 to build.

"Our village hall is not an ideal evacuation centre because it is right by the sea.

"The iron walls were also destroyed by strong waves during Tropical Cyclone Evan last year.

"Seeing the condition it is in now, we knew that it would not be safe to house villagers during the next natural disaster."

With the positive developments and awareness programs at the village, Mr Tabakaucoro says the village will be able to overcome impending disasters.

"We might be facing this problem of rising sea level but if we work together as a community and equip ourselves with the best traditional and modern knowledge then we can reduce the impact of climate change on our village."