Villagers share climate change experiences

Posted on 27 July 2004
Increased coastal flooding is just one climate change impact described by South Pacific islanders.
© WWF-South Pacific
Suva, Fiji -  Coastal flooding, widespread coral bleaching, changed octopus spawning patterns, decreased crop yields — these are just some of the impacts of climate change described by South Pacific island communities during recent workshops held by WWF.
A WWF-South Pacific survey conducted last year revealed that awareness of climate change in the South Pacific region is low. For example, 99 per cent of those surveyed on the remote Fijian island of Kabara had never heard of the term 'climate change'.

However, such awareness is extremely important as it empowers local communities to identify and adopt measures that will sustain their traditional livelihoods. The region's low-lying islands and atolls and the traditional lifestyles of their inhabitants — where much of people's income, food security, and cultural wealth depends on land and marine resources — are particularly susceptible to climate change impacts such as rising sea levels and changing seasons.

"Most of the crops grown in the South Pacific are specialized, so climate change could have a profound impact on agriculture in the region," says Ashvini Fernando, WWF Climate Change Officer at WWF-South Pacific. "For example, there are predictions that water will become saltier with climate change, which will adversely affect crops like taro."

As a follow up to the survey, WWF-South Pacific recently conducted workshops throughout the region to educate people on the effects of climate change, as well as to collect baseline information on climate change-related problems currently experienced by communities and to generate suggestions on how to address these problems. 

A general finding was that although villagers were not familiar with the term 'climate change', there was agreement by all that the climate is changing.

For example, in Nadroga, Fiji,  villagers observed that it is becoming more difficult to find resources from the marine environment; coral bleaching is widespread; coastal erosion is increasing; the tide is coming in further than it used to; and that spawning patterns of octopus and the fish species kawakawa (Cephalopholis argus) are changing, with octopus now appearing in March instead of in November, while kawakawa maturing in September instead of March. Villagers were also concerned by a deterioration of freshwater resources, soil stability, and soil fertility.

Villagers from Paeloge and Saeragi in the Solomon Islands noted changing wind and rainfall patterns, which are affecting staple crops such as slippery cabbage (neka) and cassava. Others spoke of disappearing coastlines and small islets being washed away. 
"That naru (pine) tree beside the beach used to be in the middle of the bush, but now its ready to fall into the sea. The island of Jimiri  had trees and two or three coconuts growing on it, but now no trees, just sand. Another small island, Raiqo, is just sand and stones," says Ian from Saeragi village.
"Potatoes do not bear fruit, the garden is water logged, the ground is always wet so the potato tubers rot easily. Neka does not grow well, the young shoots of both cabbage and cassava are 'burnt' and die down. Cassava mounds no longer bear tubers," says Rhoda, also from Saeragi village. 
The information generated from the workshops will provide the basis for communities and national bodies to take steps to develop solutions and implement effective adaptation measures. This will also provide valuable information for national policy makers to feed into wider national planning processes. 

As a first step, villagers from Nadroga next determined which of the climate change-related problems they identified was of major concern with regard to the development and integrity of livelihoods in the area. Four of the six villages identified water shortage as their prioritised problem, while the remaining two, which were coastal villages, indicated coastal flooding as their area of concern. 
To address the water shortage problems, villagers suggested the development of a bore hole and storage tank that would cater for the areas’ growing population and serve as backup during periods of drought. One coastal village suggested that the impact of coastal flooding could be reduced by replanting trees along rivers and in upland areas of district to improve the watershed and reduce runoff. The villagers also raised the possibility of building a seawall along the fringes of their village. 
The workshops were part of an ongoing regional initiative undertaken by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to develop national capacity building programmes enabling reduction in climate change-related risks at institutional and community levels. 
For further information:
Amelia Makutu
Senior Communications Officer, WWF-South Pacific
Tel: + 679 3315 533 
Increased coastal flooding is just one climate change impact described by South Pacific islanders.
© WWF-South Pacific Enlarge