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An Inside Look at the One of the First Villages Forced to Relocate Due to Climate Change

This community has contributed very little to anthropogenic climate change, yet they are feeling the proverbial heat in a much more profound and potentially devastating way.

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This project is the first settlement or village in Fiji to have made a formal request to the government to be moved due to climate change impacts, and in fact, one of the first villages to make this formal request, successfully, in the world.

Rokotobitobi told us that he realizes there are low lying communities in the world who face similar impacts that have not received the same support. He goes so far as to call his village “lucky.” Of course, he is right. Yet his village is tragically unlucky in that they have no choice but to move. At the same time, they are also incredibly fortunate in that they have government backing. 

The estimated new 30 homes, which will cost about $15,000 each, will house the approximately 150 villagers who are relocating.The village will include improvements such as solar power and a natural water supply system. In the meantime, while waiting for their houses to be finished, the village has conducted workshops that memorialize their history and experience with the land, and also teach about climate change impacts and future projections. 

While I was at the village, Samuela Banicau took me down to the water, where several young boys were playing in the bay. Despite the stormy weather, they seemed at ease in their play, running and jumping into the sea, wild and boyish. I spent some time with them in the mushy wet sand, trying to get a sense of their feelings about the upcoming move. It was all giggles though, as school had just let out for a two-week holiday and playing was the only thing on their agenda.

However, as we turned to leave, with our cameras rolling, the boys broke out into an unscripted Maori Haka-like warrior dance. They moved together with synchronicity and command. As I walked away towards the car, I realized that they may have no choice but to move, but it will take a lot more than one kilometer to separate this village from their traditional way of life. Other villages may not be so lucky.

Photos by Brook Meakins.

Brook Meakins is an activist and attorney in Berkeley, California with a practice that specializes in providing legal assistance and advocacy for the populations of low-lying island countries who face imminent threat of climate-related disaster.

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