Call to do more for Pacific people affected by climate change
The charity Caritas New Zealand says the world must pay more attention to the needs of vulnerable Pacific communities affected by climate change.
The charity Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand says the world must pay more attention to the needs of vulnerable Pacific communities affected by climate change.
Its new report, "Small Yet Strong: Voices of Oceania", draws from interviews with people at a grass roots levels across the region on the environmental challenges they are facing.
Its director, Julianne Hickey, told Mary Baines about what those communities are experiencing, how they're responding and what they want to happen next.
JULIANNE HICKEY: Issues that they are facing range from having to fight back the sea that is encroaching onto their land, the contamination of their soil either by seawater or through mining and logging impacts, and also the fragility of their food sources, particularly around the type of harvesting they can now do with the changing temperatures and the loss of their traditional fishing sources, so fresh fish for food as well. In countries like Papua New Guinea, as the sea is rising, communities are trying to make their own sea walls to try and keep the sea at bay. And they will pick up everything from stones, rock, coral and large shells to make sea walls, which last on average two to three years. But the water keeps rising and so they find they need to keep rebuilding those walls to try and keep it back from their land. And we've seen examples of this in Tonga as well where the king tides and the rising sea levels mean that people spend a large amount of time trying to build up their land with stones and anything they can find to try and make their land just a little bit higher. So they really are fighting off the sea from Papua New Guinea through to Tonga. One of the other examples in terms of the changes in weather patterns is that we are seeing again from the Solomon Islands through to Tonga, a common theme is that rain is not coming when people expect it. So quite often there will be months during the rainy season when no rain arrives. Like the Solomon Islands and in Ha'apai group of islands. And it puts pressure on the water tanks and the water supply systems which affects their drinking water quality. So we are needing to focus a lot on solutions that have more robust water collection systems so that we can gather more water to cope with the periods of drought which are becoming more frequent and more sustained, and deeper. With some of the strange climates and temperatures that people are experiencing, and the weather patterns, some crops are finding new ways to survive but others are struggling or fading away. In Papua New Guinea the cocoa pests are increasing with the warmer, more humid weather that they're experiencing. The people that we spoke to said the cocoa-pod bora and the black-pod fungal disease are attacking cocoa plants at a high rate, which affects the industry provincially and nationally and it affects the farmers, who are getting poor returns because these changes in the seasons are having an impact on the quantity and quality of their cocoa beans. Nearby in Vanuatu they are finding that outside the normal rainy season, they will have excessive rain, which causes floods, soil erosion, and destroys roads and crops. People are really struggling to make sense of these different temperatures and what it does to their food sources that they need to rely on for their livelihoods.
MARY BAINES: Would you say there is enough funding going into those communities that need it?
JH: A number of the communities were saying people have done significant amount of research, so they've done this with scientific and economic research. But for many of them, the funding to change and to adapt for the challenges they're facing is not reaching their communities as yet.
MB: Why is that, do you think?
JH: I think it's because the problem is complex, and in order to face some of those challenges, you first need to see what's there and then you need to create a solution. And those solutions will be bespoke for different communities, and sometimes they will be quite expensive as well. So if we are looking at renewable forms of energy, if we're bringing in solar or wind, sometimes the investment cost in that is too high and the people have shied away from those sorts of solutions. It does need to be a more integrated, co-ordinated response from agencies including NGOs like Caritas but also through to all levels of government and indeed up to the UN level to ensure that we can meet the needs of those communities in the Pacific.
MB: Going forward from here, what would the communities like to see done?
JH: Well we've got a great example of what is happening in some of the communities in Tonga. They're looking at really building up their community resilience at that grassroots level, and I know that they need to adapt to the climate variants that they're doing, and they also want to reduce the risk of any disasters happening, whether it is cyclones or tsunamis. So they're identifying activities like rehabilitating the community rainwater collection tanks, providing food crop seedlings that are resilient to these changes, but also rehabilitating their Mangrove Forests. At a high level we need the UN climate talks to actually come up with real, concrete agreements about reducing emissions and about ensuring that the way in which developed countries and developing countries, what they're doing, how that's impacting some of those communities who are most fragile and vulnerable to the impacts of environmental changes. We also need to ensure that the climate finance money, that those funds are significant now. That they do reach the communities that need it the most.
MB: Do you think regional leaders, New Zealand and Australia, are doing enough to be a voice for the Pacific in these high-level discussions?
JH: Certainly we are trying to get that voice heard. From a Caritas perspective, we will be at the climate talks both in New York and in Lima and in Paris. And we're ensuring that the findings that we have from across the Pacific will be represented as part of that global voice. We are trying to amplify that voice through the Caritas network.
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