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Fiji, moving villages inundated by rising seas, wants big emitters to cover

SERUA, Fiji, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Boats moor close to living spaces on Fiji’s Serua Island, where water breaches the seawall at high tide, flooding in to the village. Planks of wood stretch between some homes, forming a makeshift walkway as saltwater inundates gardens.

Village elders always believed they might die here on prized land where their chiefs are buried.

But because the community runs out of methods to adjust to the rising Pacific Ocean, the 80 villagers face the painful decision whether to go.

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Semisi Madanawa, raising three children who wade through playgrounds, says that given the flooding, erosion and contact with extreme weather, the village may need to relocate to Fiji’s main island to secure another for another generation.

Village elders are resisting, wondering if land reclamation might stop the ocean from taking Serua Island’s homes and ancestral burial sites, he says.

“It requires time for a concept to stay in the hearts folks humans so we are able to accept the changes which are coming,” says Madanawa, 38. “Climate change is going on and we have to decide.”

Serua Island is among the many coastal villages making difficult decisions about their future, seeking government assistance for expensive projects to adapt or move, say Fiji government officials.

Leaders of 15 low-lying Pacific island nations declared climate change their “single greatest existential threat” at a mid-July summit in Fiji’s capital, Suva. read more

Facing probably the most direct ramifications of climate change, they need developed nations, who contributed probably the most to global warming, not merely to curb their emissions but to cover the steps that islanders must try protect their folks from rising sea levels. The push has turned into a key battle at US climate conferences.

Building seawalls, planting mangroves and improving drainage are no more enough to save lots of villages oftentimes, says Shivanal Kumar, a climate-change adaptation specialist in Fiji’s economy ministry.

“Lots of communities come in genuine crisis, they are attempting to survive,” he says. “The impacts of climate change have already been felt for several years and there came a period where they quit and said it’s now time and energy to move.”

Relocation aims to preserve human rights by protecting folks from rising seas, bigger storm surges and much more extreme cyclones, Kumar says.

However the funds pledged by developed nations at U.N. climate conferences usually do not cover relocation, only adaptation, such as for example creating a seawall, officials say.

Finally year’s global climate conference, called COP26, developed nations agreed and then keep discussing compensation for the unavoidable impacts of climate change, including migration, suffered by vulnerable societies.

The Pacific leaders at their summit needed developed nations showing meaningful progress at COP27 on a fresh goal – swift funding for such “loss and damage”.

The president of COP26, British politician Alok Sharma, said in Suva on Wednesday he understood the disappointment of Pacific villagers on leading type of climate change.

“You’re forced to cope with the results of greenhouse gas emissions generated largely by the largest emitting countries, that are quite a distance from here. This is simply not a crisis of one’s making,” he said in a speech.

“We will have to discover a way of experiencing a substantive discussion on loss and damage at COP27.”

Fiji, an archipelago of a huge selection of islands some 2,000 km (1,200 miles) north of New Zealand, in 2014 became the initial Pacific island nation to relocate a residential area due to rising sea levels.

Six villages have moved or intend to with government support, but a fresh process to prioritise probably the most urgent relocations continues to be under development.

An additional 795 will have to move, says climate youth activist Salote Nasalo, who says she loses sleep considering where they are able to go. Pacific youth will continue protesting against inaction on financing by the big emitters, says Nasolo, a University of South Pacific student.

The initial community to relocate was Vunidogoloa, after villagers invited officials to observe how they lived with water around their knees. Saltwater had destroyed the power of the 150 residents to cultivate crops, removing livelihoods and food security, says former village headman Sailosi Ramatu.

In the brand new village 1.5 km (1 mile) inland on Vanua Levu Island, children now sit outside their homes, dry feet planted firmly on a lawn.

Ramatu, 63, says it took time and energy to persuade the elders to go, however the village came together and paid attention to experts.

“We are able to also decide on the planet if the leaders get together,” he says. “They ought to help us, they ought to purchase our loss and damage.”

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Suva and Loren Elliott in Serua; Writing by Kirsty Needham; Editing by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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