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'We're the issue'

M Supplied/Raising Pacific Voices
Tuesday, December 05, 2017

More than 300 nuclear tests occurred in the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, and Kiribati's Christmas Island between 1946 and 1996.

In 2017, seven decades have passed since the first nuclear bomb detonated in the Pacific, at Bikini Atoll. Islanders are still living with the impacts of nuclear politics, while fighting for restitution and greater recognition of this grave injustice.

Today, Islanders across a vast tract of the Pacific Ocean continue to confront the legacy of colonialism and Cold War ambitions. Displacement, long-term radiation-related health problems, contaminated homelands, and food insecurity are just some of the problems lingering in the wake of nuclear testing.

The recent threat of a nuclear war between North Korea and the US, against the backdrop of the North Pacific, reminds us of the hyper-militarisation of our oceans and the growing insecurity this brings with it.

Islanders are rising to the challenges, refusing to simply wither away in the aftermath that has stolen the futures of multiple generations. Islanders are building their resilience and speaking truth to power.

Elimondik is a community organisation based in Enewetak, Marshall Islands, where 43 nuclear weapons were detonated by the US between 1948 and 1958. The organisation is calling for global action for nuclear justice and the recognition of indigenous rights.

Elimondik's co-coordinator Brooke Takala will join a panel discussion on "Rising Seas and Nuclear Issues: A call for global action" organised by Oxfam in the Pacific at International Civil Society Week (ICSW) today, Tuesday December 5. The discussion is part of efforts under Oxfam's EU-funded Raising Pacific Voices program, aimed at strengthening Pacific civil society's effectiveness in making lasting impacts on regional and global policy.

The panel discussion will centre on the lived realities of nuclear-affected communities, the impacts of climate change and the indigenous people's resilience to these separate but interlinked challenges.

Takala says: "The people of the Pacific have been forced to adapt to life on nuclear-affected atolls, life as 'nuclear nomads,' and life with the reality of sea level rise. It's time for the rest of the world to adapt to a life free from the industry that caused this mess in the first place."

A doctoral candidate at the University of the South Pacific, where ICSW is taking place, Takala and her husband Mores Abraham have been raising awareness about sites such as the Runit Dome, where the US buried thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste at the end of its testing program at Enewetak. The waste is capped with a giant concrete saucer-shaped slab that is now faced with cracks from environmental exposure, as well as the encroachment of plants and the sea.

The fear is that a breach of the Runit Dome could cause a major catastrophe.

"Runit Dome is the visual representation of the climate change-nuclear legacy nexus, but it is just the tip of the iceberg," says Takala.

"Runit is not a 'dump' or 'nuclear wasteland.' It is our ancestral homeland where the US has left its poison. The dome is a tomb where the US has attempted to bury our children's futures."

Raijeli Nicole, the regional director of Oxfam in the Pacific says: "The Pacific Ocean is an economic and cultural lifeline for millions of Pacific Islanders, providing our local, national and global economies with livelihoods, food security and cultural identity.

"Facing climate change with the vestiges of our colonial history still in living memory, the ratcheting up of tensions between the United States and North Korea is only a reminder of a reality we have lived before.

"The Pacific must be represented and heard in the continuing nuclear threat as part of global solidarity and action," Ms Nicole says.

Elimondik's co-coordinator Abraham added: "We are raising our children to be stewards of their ocean and islands. Why do they also have to be stewards of the United States' nuclear waste?"

During the decade of testing at Enewetak, the world's first hydrogen bomb, called "Ivy Mike", was tested. Five hundred times bigger than Hiroshima's "Little Boy", it destroyed the entire island of Elugelab.

Takala says: "While some are treating coal as a 'low-hanging fruit' that we can pick and significantly mitigate the effects of climate change, we must look at the root cause of both climate change and our nuclear legacy and that is the extractives industry. This industry fuels militarisation, genocide, and ecocide. No more picking 'low-hanging fruits' … we have no choice but to uproot the whole damn tree."

The panel discussion will include Marshallese campaigner and Bikini Islander Alson Kelen, who recently said of the nuclear legacy: "We are not tied to the issue — we are the issue."

* "Raising Pacific Voices: Reinforcing Pacific Civil Society" is a three-year regional program, funded by the European Union (2.3 million euros). It will be implemented by Oxfam working in partnership with the Pacific Disability Forum (as PRNGO Alliance focal point). The program aims to develop the capacity of CSOs across the Pacific. The program will work closely with the Pacific Regional NGO (PRNGO) network and its partners across 10 Pacific Island countries, in the three sub-regions of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia.

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