The negative impacts of climate change-induced Loss and Damage is already a lived reality for many Pacific countries.
In Fiji, the impact is grim.
In Vunidogola village on the island of Vanua Levu, more than 160 villagers have relocated 2km inland to avoid constant exposure to storm surges, inundation events and the impact of saltwater intrusion on agriculture and farming.
These impacts date back to as early as 2006 when floods and erosion caused by sea level rise and increased rains destroyed homes and devastated farms. The situation worsened where sea water took away land progressively. The mangroves that used to cover the whole coast have also been completely absorbed by the sea.
In another part of Fiji at Tukuraki Village, extreme rainfall caused a landslide which buried 50 percent of the village in 2012. Twelve months later, the village was hit by Category 4 Cyclone Evan, forcing villagers from their homes into temporary shelters. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in 2016 Cyclone Winston, a Category 5 Cyclone landed the final blow forcing the close-knit community to abandon the only place they had known as home.
But that’s not all.
Narikoso village on Kadavu Island, a community that had been inhabited for more than 500 years, has also relocated. Worsening sea level rise had wreaked havoc on the shoreline, which has receded by over 15 metres during the past two decades.
Constant flooding, the loss of lives and damage to property means ongoing uncertainty for these communities. The grim reality in Fiji where six villages have been relocated, with the possibility of more to follow, was highlighted on Day 2 of the first Pacific Loss and Damage (L&D) Dialogue in Samoa.
“When we speak about the losses and damage our communities have experienced as a result of climate change, we did not read this in a book, this is our daily reality,” said Gabriel Mara, of Fiji’s Climate Change Division, Office of the Prime Minister.
Mara was sharing the experience from his country during the Dialogue which has brought together Government representatives, civil society, academia, NGOs and the private sector to collectively discuss experiences and options to address loss and damage in the Pacific region.
During COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt in 2022, the decision to establish new loss and damage funding arrangements, including a fund for loss and damage, was noted as the most significant development on the issue since 1991. Mr Mara welcomes the development but said there is no time to waste.
“Addressing loss and damage is essential because it doesn’t just impact our livelihoods, this is about our survival so this needs to be addressed immediately and holistically by placing people at the centre, instead of negotiating on economic terms.”
L&D includes impacts from both extreme weather and slow-onset events. In the context of L&D, loss refers to climate-related impacts that cannot be restored within reasonable time frames. Damage refers to adverse impacts in relation to which reparation or restoration is possible but imposes burdens and costs on communities.
Sea level rise, which the IPCC reports predict will only worsen, is a major concern for Fiji where 76% of the nation’s population live within 5km of the coast. Some 42 vulnerable communities in Fiji have been identified for possible relocation.
But the impact extends far beyond damaged infrastructure and relocation. People continue to suffer from the psychological trauma from sudden onset events as well as exacerbation of inequalities due to loss of resources.
Cultural erosion is another concern. The iTaukei (Fijian) ecological knowledge used to describe the months of the year which are associated with long term seasonal trends, when fruits ripen, wind direction, prime planting, no longer match reality.
“There is also damage to public health where climate-sensitive disease like dengue fever, leptospirosis, typhoid spike. There is reduced access to resources as communities are forced to relocate. There are issues with forced behavioural shifts as well as challenges that come with urban drift,” he said.