27 Oct 2015

Fiji village headman outlines stresses in climate change move

From , 6:03 am on 27 October 2015
Sailosi Ramatu, from the first village in Fiji to relocate as a result of climate change.

Sailosi Ramatu, from the first village in Fiji to relocate as a result of climate change. Photo: RNZI

A man whose entire village in Fiji was forced to relocate due to the effects of climate change is pleading with health and climate change experts to learn from what happened to his community.

The Vunidogoloa village in Cakaudrove relocated in January last year, about 2.5 kilometers inland from its original site.

The village headman Sailosi Ramatu has spoken at a health and climate change conference in Nadi, where he talked about the stress of uprooting 154 people.

He told Bridget Tunnicliffe the decision to relocate was made a long time ago, but it took many more years to realise.

SAILOSI RAMATU: Way back, during our forefathers when they started realising the impact of climate change, before I was born, in 1956. As I heard from some of our elder parents, they decided to relocate our community on that year, 1956. But just because of the lack of education, lack of communication, those visions came to no avail. We came to have these consultations with the government in 2006 onwards, and the reality of this relocation process came to be successful on the 16th of January 2014, as we relocated.  

BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: What kind of help did you need? You must have needed a lot of government help.

SR: Especially the financial part of relocation. To relocate, you have to relocate three things, we relocate the people, we relocate the church, we relocate the government essentials within the village. All this needs funding, and to relocate is the last option. Because it's like forcing us to move from where we were born, we spent our whole lives there.

BT: It must have been heartbreaking to have to leave.

SR: It's very heartbreaking. We really miss things, our identities, our lovely old village, our parents, we left them behind.

BT: Things must have got really bad though, I mean, what was it like in the end? Was it a struggle just to grow food and source water and things like that?

SR: In the old village site, almost one and a half chain of land had been eroded by sea water. Those lands that had been eroded by sea water had also been occupied by villages and their houses. The sea by this time is taking the land away from us, every day.

BT: Did it leave you vulnerable as well? In your speech you said sometimes you were just cut off and if there was an emergency and someone needed medical help, it was very dangerous.

SR: Yes, sometimes we have to run for our lives, for emergencies. We have to take our elders, our small children, for the risk of water coming in our village. Most of the time that happens. It was [something we became] used to for us, as we've seen this happening for all of our lives.   

Village headman Sailosi Ramatu, who spoke at a conference on strengthening climate change resilience through health.