Fiji’s villagers move uphill to escape global warming’s rising seas
Fiji's villagers
ILO News

The International Labour Organization is playing a critical role in helping a Fijian coastal community rebuild its flooded village.

The villagers of Vunidogoloa on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, know first-hand how climate change can affect their daily lives. Their coastal community has been badly affected by rising seas, erosion and flooding – forcing them to relocate to higher, drier ground.

Fiji’s picturesque Natewa Bay must be a hard place to leave, and for none more so than the villagers of Vunidogoloa, who are preparing to abandon their ancestral home in the face of the rising sea. But they have little choice: big waves now overtop a once-protective sea wall, their salt-polluted vegetation is dying.
They are to move as a community a mile inland, and uphill, to a new site on the northern island of Vanua Levu. Devout Methodists, they have named Kenani, Fijian for Canaan – the Promised Land.

The same thing is happening in the village of Narikoso on the small southern island of Oko, whose people took advantage by of a visit by the country’s prime minister two years ago to ask to move.
They too are going uphill, a little more than half a mile, leaving, as one official put it, the place where “they have stored their history, their genealogy and their very being”.

Many villages in Fiji and throughout the Pacific Islands are similarly under siege from the encroaching waters. By 2050, according to some estimates, 650,000 of their people will have been forced to flee their homes as a result of climate change.

Diagonally across the Pacific, the villagers of Newtok, Alaska are also preparing to leave for higher ground, becoming the first US community to be forced to relocate, though in their case the problem is as much the instability of the ground beneath their feet, as global warming melts its permafrost.

Some 180 Alaskan communities are similarly threatened by flooding and losing land.

Across the country the homes of 2.1 million people in Florida will be under water by the end of the century, while New York is expected to be flooded by disasters like Super storm Sandy every two years. And, it is similarly predicted, America’s birthplace – Jamestown, Virginia, where Captain John Smith met Pocahontas – will be submerged by the year 2100.

In an initiative championed by the villagers themselves, 16 homes have been built in 7 months, as part of a climate change relocation project – backed by the Commissioner Northern’s Office, the Ministry of Provincial Development, the Ministry of Labour and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Fiji’s Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment redesigned the original ILO model of ‘Cash for Work’ to include the use of volunteers – qualified unemployed people who are registered with the National Employment Centre (NEC). The ministry has named the program, “Cash for Work Plus”.

The 12 volunteers will help build a total of 30 new homes and will also carry out other tasks, such as cleaning compounds and planting crops for food security.

The new homes will include improvements like solar power and a natural water supply system.

With financial assistance from the ILO, the Ministry of Labour has been able to buy building tools and safety equipment.

Instead of cash handouts being given to the 30 affected families, the ILO has provided funding for the purchase of pineapple and banana seedlings and tops and other relevant crops, which will be planted in the new, relocated village.

This will enable villagers to generate valuable income.

The Fijian government has contributed two-thirds of the capital for the move, which includes labour, materials, finances, and design work. The villagers have been providing their labour, as well as local wood for building materials.

“I am glad that we were able to accomplish this significant task by using volunteers from the National Employment Centre, giving them an opportunity to develop their skills to secure permanent employment in the future,” says Jone Usamate, Minister for Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment. Jone Veisamasama, a volunteer who helped complete the plumbing work for the new houses, praises the program.

“It is good because the government thinks about the unemployed and has given us opportunity,” he stresses.

“If we give our lives for the good of others, then we can build a better Fiji,” says another volunteer, Uraia Tawake.

The Labour Ministry now plans to implement the “Cash for Work Plus” program in the Northern and Western Division, targeting a total of 100 households.

“I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the relevant authorities and volunteers engaged in this worthy cause. The ‘Cash for Work Plus’ Program is helping build a better Fiji for the people of Vunidogoloa,” Usamate added.

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