Global sea levels are rising at unprecedented rates due to climate change, threatening lives and livelihoods for ocean-front communities in SIDS. Urgent action is needed to protect the most vulnerable, particularly in the Pacific, where a study predicts most atolls will become un-inhabitable by the middle of this century. Although some neighbouring countries, such as New Zealand, have opened up immigration to welcome climate refugees from the Pacific, the uptake has been slow because most prefer to stay in their home countries. This preference was recognized officially in the Niue Declaration, signed by Pacific Island leaders in 2008 and which encourages nations in the region to adapt to climate change impacts. Many Fijians are deeply connected to their land and ocean, and Fiji has been leading by innovation in approaches for the Blue Economy.
Sadly, for many ocean-front communities, the only viable option is relocation to higher ground. Fiji has begun the expensive and challenging process of relocating the most vulnerable villages in the country, a process that began in earnest when the first village was moved in 2014. With a total of 42 villages so far earmarked for relocation, the government has defined Standard Operating Procedures for the complex task that involves identification of new sites, construction of houses, schools, health centres, churchs, road and infrastructure, etc.
A few key lessons have emerged that are revising the approach for future community relocations, and which can offer a blueprint for other countries. For each community the process can take many years and the full engagement and approval of up to 90% of members of each group in the community (men, women, youth, elderly, etc) is needed to ensure full support and to avoid major oversights – a lesson from the first community to move which did not consult women and where all houses were built without kitchens. The process of relocating communities will be very expensive and innovative approaches to financing the operation will be needed. Fiji created the world’s first relocation trust fund, leveraging tourism taxes and tax on high-income earners.
Other Pacific countries such as Kiribati and Tuvalu are also relocating local communities. A UNDP project in Tuvalu is ensuring that this process will be conducted with inclusive consultations capturing voices of women, youth and people with disabilities and sharing their stories to build the knowledge base for more successful relocations in the future.
Read more in SIDS Bulletin 67.