In Fiji, climate change could increase the cost of cyclones and floods to 6.5% of GDP, and push 32,400 people into poverty per year by 2050. The recent Climate Vulnerability Assessment, prepared by the Fijian government with support from the World Bank and Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), pilots a methodology to assess climate and disaster vulnerability and design climate change adaptation and risk management plans and strategies.
After travelling the world, living in Hawaii, Micronesia and working in the tourism industry across Fiji, Raivolita ‘Rai’ Tabusoro, 43, says there is no place like home.
“I enjoy living in my village. …Out of all the places I’ve been, there is no place like Fiji. It’s a beautiful place, fresh air and happy people. There are many things that I saw when I was away, and when I returned I wanted to lift my village to another standard.”
Rai lives in the small coastal community of Nabukadra, a village on the Northern coast of Viti Levu in Fiji, The village sits below sea level, making it particularly vulnerable to increasing sea levels, tidal waves, storm surges and other natural disasters caused by climate change
In the seventeen years since he has been home, Rai been elected several times by his community to leadership positions: the District Representative, a Government liaison position, followed by an election to Village Headman; positions he’s held for over ten years. During this time, he has worked to improve living conditions for people in both his village and the wider district area, including through supporting new and improved sources of income.
Yet Rai’s leadership was tested in 2016, right before the arrival of Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest and most devastating tropical cyclone to ever make landfall in the southern hemisphere.
Surviving a natural disaster like Winston was deeply traumatic for Rai; as his village was one of the hardest hit in all of Fiji. After stocking up on food supplies, he arrived home to find his family still at home, rather than in the village hall, the location to where most people had evacuated. With wind forces already extreme, Rai and his family could do nothing but wait for the cyclone to pass.
“I thought that God was returning on that day,” says Rai. “We got a shock when our ceiling collapsed. My wife and daughter ran, and only my mother and I were left in the house. My mother cannot walk because of her broken knees.
“I ran and stood in front of the door getting ready to run to survive. When I looked back, I saw my mother lying, wet from the rain with her head bowed. I was filled with sorrow to my core. I told myself, I cannot watch my mother die in this house.
I ran back for my mother, I don’t know where I got the rejuvenated spirit. I ran towards the window that was facing the sea, picked up a 4X4 and I smashed the wall. At the same time, [storm] waves entered the village. I picked up my mother and carried her on my back. The water level was up to my waist. Our bathroom is made of concrete, so I put my mother in there.”
By moving his elderly mother in their concrete bathroom, Rai had saved her life.
Once the winds had calmed, Raivolita made his way to the village hall, to check on the people who’d made it there in time. Together, they watched on as storm surges swept through their homes.
“We looked on helplessly as we watched our belongings wash away during the [storm] waves. We lost everything. The next morning, the sun was shining as if nothing happened. It was as if a bomb was dropped in the village; because there was nothing left, not even clothes were spared. I called everyone, and for a moment, we were all crying.”
More than 18 months on from Winston, the impact of such a destructive natural disaster are still being felt across Rai’s community. While he has assisted with rebuilding more than 50 homes, he’s yet to rebuild his own due to a shortage in timber. He adds that he continues to struggle as his family’s breadwinner.
“Before Winston, I was able to reach my target for the month because there was an abundant supply of coconut, I had a lot of pigs, and I also had beehives. But now my beehives have been destroyed, seven pigs died during Winston, and all the coconut trees were destroyed,” says Rai.“I am really struggling and finding it difficult to provide for my family.”
Yet Rai says he’s not the only one who is financially struggling, and like any parent, has bright dreams for the future of his children.
“We’re all facing difficult times. Sometimes you have things and sometimes you don’t. We cannot have everything all the time.
“I can do this because I can handle the work and my will power is strong to get something done. It’s enough for me to stay in the village, but my hope for my children, is to strive for their education, their lives and their families in the good future.”