‘Learn and move’

The flood in Ba last weekend saw some people stranded along the Kings Rd highway at Yalalevu. Picture: REINAL CHAND

The flood in Ba last weekend saw some people stranded along the Kings Rd highway at Yalalevu. Picture: REINAL CHAND

THE Easter weekend flood caused by La Nina rains were similar in magnitude compared with the 2009 and 2012 floods causing death, destruction, pain and suffering to many people.

In my opinion, our nation’s leaders have so far not learnt anything from such major floods.

Some have even developed the bad habit of blaming the disasters on “climate change” then carry on with other business, as usual.

Do you recall your experiences during all three 2009, 2012 and 2018 Western Division floods when Nadi, Ba, and Rakiraki were under water and boats plied the waters over the roads and street, ferrying people?

Fijians had almost made it through this wet season (November 2017 — April 2018) without a major flood, despite expectations of one similar to the 2009 and 2012 — as can be expected during the La Nina phase of the weather cycle. However, the Easter weekend spate of adverse weather conditions and Tropical Cyclone Josie definitely put a dent in people’s optimism as some thought Fiji, this time around, would escape unscathed from any flooding, as we slowly approached the end of our wet season on April 30, 2018.

The La Nina and El Nino phenomenon affect us all in a three-seven year cycle, regulating our extreme dry years and the extreme wet years during our November to April wet season. La Nina and El Nino are at opposite ends of each other.

One warms the region, and the other cools it, driving our Walker Circulation which modulates in an irregular cyclical manner, not only the Walker but the pole ward circulation called the Hadley Circulation. The areal and temporal variability of our weather and climate, and the extremes in weather conditions, are dictated by the nature and intensity of these modulations.

La Nina conditions caused extreme floods in Samoa aggravated from the impact of Tropical Cyclone Gita. Rivers burst their banks and houses were swamped. More than 200 people in Samoa needed emergency shelter.

Apia, the capital, measured 425mm of rain over four days, the heaviest fall providing 148mm during Friday night 9-10/02/18 when Gita was passing over the nation. A state of disaster was declared by the Samoan Government, at the time, attracting international help.

Well before the naming of TC Josie, Fiji region remained completely covered by massive clouds (the South Pacific Convergence Zone- SPCZ), intense thunderstorm activity and rains affecting us. Later we also noted the formation of an area of low pressure west of Nadi, which became a depression and then a lower scale Category 1 cyclone, TC Josie.

The vicinity of TC Josie just to the west of Fiji and its embedded structure within broader active cloud bands covering large areas across and west of Fiji, led to very heavy rains continuously, at times for several hours without breaks, leading to the Easter floods; which included all areas that were also affected in 2009 and 2012 or during other major national deluge historically.

We note the same areas flooding again and again, in every single flood episode whether it was 2009, 2012 or 2018. Low-lying areas in Nadi River catchments, Nadi Town, Sabeto, Waimalika, Natabua flats, Vitogo, Naviyago, Drasa flats, Vatulaulau in Ba, Namosau, Ba Town, Wailailai flats, Koronubu flats, including the Fiji Sugar Corporation mill, Tavua Town and flats, Rakiraki Town and flats.

It should be noted that Nadi, Ba and Rakiraki towns need to be relocated even at great initial costs to the community, including the Ba mill. This is a future disaster vindication cost for which the nation has to pay if it wishes to address the anomalies that exists presently, leading to extenuating losses to our community and nation in the long run.

As part of flood research, I had the opportunity to visit and inspect locations and organisations like the Ba mill in 2009 and 2012. I noted that our nation is needlessly spending millions of dollars to keep the Ba mill operational after almost every single severe weather event that led to flooding of the mill.

I have noted old FSC records stating the FSC weather observing enclosure which used to have rain gauges cited in it, have often been swept away in floods a number of times. The enclosure has been moved but the mill has remained at the same location for over a century.

It is totally sad to note that for over a century Fijians have kept paying huge repair bills for the Ba mill whose many motors and generators which are located on the ground floor only metres away from the bank of the Ba River, get not only flooded but completely buried in metres of silt, after every single adverse weather event.

It has probably cost the Fijian taxpayer millions of dollars over the years to keep paying these exorbitant costs in rehabilitation and maintenance costs for the Ba mill, especially when it is used for only four-months of the year during the crushing season.

Do our leaders want our population to “adapt” to these floods, when our towns and the Ba mill maybe wrongly set up in a vulnerable location without much thought of these issues by the colonial government more than a century ago?

In situations like these floods Fijians cannot be expected to adapt, they simply have to relocate to higher ground. No one should even try to fight floods, tsunami, cyclones and droughts, these are causes and effects of nature.

The powers of nature and the elements are enormous, exhibiting catastrophic results — deaths of our loved ones — literally snatched away from our arms as experienced during the 2018 Easter floods.

The loss, grief and pain will last forever, we will never get over our losses but slowly learn to live with the pain nature can inflict on us.

It would be foolhardy for towns and mills in their present locations.

Fijians continue to see the forces of nature at play with the recent cyclones, floods and storm surge waves. The Easter floods saw the demise of six individuals and showed the very temporary nature of our lives, especially when we do not take precaution or needlessly try to fight nature.

Human beings’ sheer powerlessness became so evident during the recent floods, when innocent people perished because the sudden nature of the elements and their extreme forces at play.

The big question is whether our leaders will take some action to help mitigate matters for the long-term wellbeing of our people, learn from the floods of 2009, 2012 and 2018 or continue to blame climate change and carry on with their normal day to day lives?

* Dr Sushil K Sharma is a WMO accredited Class 1 professional meteorologist and an associate professor of meteorology at the Fiji National University. The views expressed are his and not that of FNU or this newspaper.

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