When I first came to Fiji, the first few weeks were a culture shock. One of the main differences apart from the change in climate was how in touch Fiji still is with traditions and protocols. I also noticed how welcoming and nice everyone is, which made the transition to Fiji, much easier. One of the main issues that interested me during my research on the Pacific was the issue of climate refugees (people being forced to relocate due to climate).
In May 2022, a group of us from the Pacific Conference of Churches went to Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji. The purpose of this trip was to visit three communities that had been affected in different ways because of climate change. The first community we visited is called Naviavia. The community in Naviavia are people of Solomon Island descent and the land that they are living on is land the Kiribati government bought in Fiji. Kiribati bought this in preparation for the inevitable effects climate change will have on their own country, leading to a loss of land. The problem this has caused for the Naviavia community is that if the Kiribati population decides to relocate to the land they have bought, the land currently used by Naviavia for farming and housing will no longer be theirs and they risk being evicted from it.
The next community that we visited is the community of NaVunisavisavi. This small community was directly suffering from rising sea levels, and they showed us the attempts they had made to adapt to the rising water, such as mangrove planting and sea wall building. However, all methods they have tried so far have been unsuccessful, so their main request to us was for help from builders and others with the knowledge to successfully adapt to the water levels, as they don’t want to relocate from their land.
The final community we visited was the community of Vunidogolea. This community was based a lot higher than the previous community in terms of meters above sea level. This is because they used to be in the same situation as the community from NaVunisavisavi (impacted by sea-level rise), then in 2014, they relocated to a higher location. One of the main struggles I learned about the process of their relocation was that they paid for most of the cost of relocation themselves, even though they had no choice but to move.
After I return from Fiji, I will be starting at Exeter University in the UK to do a degree in International Relations. I aim to raise awareness about the situation that the Pacific is in so that the opportunity that I was given might be useful in spreading the word and encouraging support and assistance from other parts of the world.