Penina Speaks in Japan

Posted on 01 January 2006
WWF Climate Witness, Penina Moce, travelled to Japan to speak at a Symposium on Climate Change. Penina is from the small island of Kabara, which is part of a small group of islands off Fiji's main island of Viti Levu. In her speech to the Symposium attendees, she recounts her life on Kabara, as well as the problems she faces as her island combats the negative effects of climate change.

"Bula Vinaka and Konichiwa Ladies and gentlemen, I am indeed honoured to be here today to address you as the WWF Climate Witness representative from the Fiji Islands. My name is Penina Moce and I come from one of the smaller inhabited islands in the Fiji group, called Kabara. I am here today to share some of my experiences and that of my people relating to the global problem on climate change. But before I share with you some of these experiences, I hope you will indulge me as I briefly tell you about my island Kabara.

Some people when seeing my island for the first time will think it paradise with the beautiful white sandy beaches, clear blue-ocean and lush greenery. But in reality Kabara can be a very difficult place to live on; the island is very small, only about 32 km2 and is made up mainly of limestone. We do not have any rivers or streams on our island, and therefore depend mainly on rain for our drinking water and for our other household needs.

We also do not have much land suitable for growing crops like the other larger islands and as I mentioned earlier as most of our land is limestone, most of our agricultural areas are low-lying coastal flats. What we can grow on these coastal flats is also limited but it is sufficient to meet our daily needs and supplement the marine resources we harvest from the sea.

To many my island may not be an ideal place to live, but my people have lived and survived like this for countless generations. In the forty years I have lived on Kabara, I like many of those on my island have noticed changes that did not happen or were uncommon in the past, like the rapid erosion of coastal areas near our villages, longer periods of dry and hot weather, the increased frequency of storms and storm surges, changes in the seasonal patterns of our plants and animals and the bleaching of corals in our fishing grounds.

Because we are a people that are bound to the land and sea in many ways, we find these changes odd and very concerning. All four villages on my island are located on coastal flats, a meter or so above the high tide mark, the constant erosion of our beaches and frequent events of storm surges threatens not only our homes but the limited land we grow our crops on. In one village Naikeleyaga, the beach has eroded 10 meters back that it now threatens the school for the children. If we are constantly forced back inland by the sea, in time it is unlikely for us to relocate as all four villages are surrounded by high limestone cliffs. The only option then would be to abandon our island, but I hope that day never comes.

Another major change is with rain. Rain on Kabara is everything, without it, we cannot drink, wash, bathe, cook or water our crops. Water shortage has always been a part of our lives on Kabara, however in more recent years we have noticed that our normal dry season seems to have extended and the weather during this period is far drier. This not only affects how much water we have available to use for our daily needs, but also our gardens. The leaf and root crops like the slimy cabbage, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams and bananas in our gardens wither and what makes it worse is that white bugs that thrive during this period infest and destroy what is left. During times like these we often resort to drinking coconuts, but when the dry season is prolonged the young coconuts fall off the tree before we can use them. In my culture, when we have traditional ceremonies, we usually present root crops and other food items as offerings. Should water scarcity become worse in the future we will no longer be able to perform this function, which would bring us shame.

Even traditional knowledge on seasons we have taken for granted and relied on for generations is now different. The seasons for fruit trees in the forests to bear fruit and for fish to spawn have changed significantly. Recently, we have noticed that these either happen earlier or later than usual. In the past the fruiting of certain trees coincided with the spawning or breeding times of certain fish, now they are out of sync. Knowing the seasons is especially important when we grow crops. The changes in season have caused problems particularly if the rainy period is too short or does not coincide with when we begin planting. Even our fishing grounds have begun to change. In the past most of our corals were very colourful, but now everything appears white and the fish we harvest are fewer and smaller than before. Also, because of our beaches being eroded, much of the sand covered areas where live corals thrived and again where we used to find shellfish to eat, now we no longer find them.

These problems are not unique to Kabara, other surrounding communities on islands near mine are also experiencing the same thing, as these islands are of a similar nature to mine. As we come from islands that are isolated, often development and assistance from government is very slow. However, the communities on my island rather than wait have begun to take action to help lessen the impacts brought about by these changes, by planting more coastal trees to help lessen coastal erosion, protecting our reefs by banning all damaging activities to corals and to strengthen water wastage by implementing community water use restrictions during dry periods. These are just small steps we have taken ourselves, but from my understanding because Climate Change is global problem, our efforts will still be useless if others do not take action as well.

I am very honoured and thankful to be invited to share my experiences here in Japan, where I was told the Kyoto Protocol was initiated to take measures against the negative impacts brought about by Climate Change. Before I, and I am sure many in my community thought the changes that were happening were brought about by the will of God and a test of our faith. I have since learnt that these changes are caused by humans, and shows how although we are separated by great distances we all still affect each other. But I strongly believe that if Climate Change is a problem caused by humans it can therefore can be solved by humans.

I thank you for patiently listening to me and allowing me to share some of the experiences from my community in Fiji.

Vinaka! Thank you!"