Climate change threatens the future of villages in Fiji

Climate change threatens the future of villages in Fiji

Boats moor next to living rooms on Fiji's Serua Island, where high tide breaches the seawall and floods the village.

The village elders always believed that they would die here, where their chiefs are buried.

The 80 villagers must decide whether or not to abandon their ancestral home as the community runs out of ways to adapt.

The village may have to move to Fiji's main island for the next generation to have a future, according to the 38-year-old.

But he says the village's elders are reluctant to move.

It takes time for an idea to settle in the hearts of human beings so that we can accept the changes that are coming, he says.

Climate change is happening and we need to make a decision. Serua Island is one of many coastal villages that are looking for help to adapt or move, according to Fiji's government.

These projects are expensive, and many times adaptions — like building sea walls, planting mangroves and improving drainage — are no longer enough to save villages from rising sea levels.

At a mid-July summit in Suva, leaders of 15 low-lying Pacific Island nations declared climate change their single greatest existential threat.

They want developed nations like Australia, who contribute the most to global warming, to pay so islanders can protect themselves from rising sea levels.

The push has become a key battle at the UN climate conference.

A lot of communities are in real crisis, they've been trying to survive, says Shivanal Kumar, a Fiji government climate change adaptation specialist.

The effects of climate change have been felt for many years, and there came a time when they gave up and said it's now time to move. He says that relocation aims to preserve human rights by protecting people from rising seas, bigger storm surges and more extreme cyclones.

The funds pledged by developed nations at the UN climate conferences do not cover relocation - only adaptation.

At the COP 26 global climate conference last year, leaders agreed only to talk about compensating vulnerable people affected by climate change, including migration.

They are up to their knees in water.

In 2014, Fiji became the first Pacific Island nation to relocate a community, Vunidogoloa, because of rising sea levels.

Six villages have moved or plan to.

The people of Vunidogoloa were the first to move.

The villagers were living up to their knees in water, and it had become impossible for the 150 residents to grow food, says former village headman Sailosi Ramatu.

The children can now sit outside their homes with their dry feet firmly on the ground in the new village 1.5 kilometres inland on Vanua Levu Island.

Ramatu, 63, says it took time to persuade the elders to move, but the village came together and listened to experts.

He said that the leaders can make a decision in the world if they come together.

They should help us, they should pay for our loss and damage.