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It’s now or never

Solomon Islands faces wrath of climate change


Salt water eroding an island in the Arnavon group, located between Isabel and Choiseul province. Island Sun file photo

FROM the melting glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica to the low-lying states of the Pacific Islands, like in the Solomon Islands, the impact of climate change is taking its toll on people’s livelihood on a scale never seen before.

The country, an archipelago of six main islands and over 900 small islands has a population of just above 600,000 people, according to 2017 projection, 80 per cent whose lives depend on terrestrial and marine resources for food.

But the land and the ocean are turning against the very people they are supposed to serve.

In the Weather coast of Guadalcanal, sustaining a livelihood from the land is a daily struggle on the steep coastal mountain slopes that plunge to the sea, worsened by the increasing changes in atmospheric temperature and unpredictable weather pattern on the already precarious food situation there.

Coordinator of Talise Community Base Rural Training Centre (TBRTC), Celestine Aloatu told The Island Sun that over the years, heavy rains have eroded soil nutrients, naturally selecting a new environment which harbours thriving plant pests and diseases that affect taro, the main staple root crop.

Mr Aloatu said climate change effects on soil have made life hard for farmers, and threatened food production in the weather coast. He said the training centre has become a food bank centre to support other communities on planting materials.

“The effects of climate change is a reality here, the training centre is trying its best to source planting material for these communities, but is still in need of assistance to support the continuity of the assessment.

“The support would also help to empower lead farmers, to take the lead in family food crop farming in this region, to ensure that food is secure for people,” Aloatu said.

Vonu village located at Marau on the eastern tip of Guadalcanal’s coastline was shallowed by the rising sea and as a result, most villagers have fled and rebuild their homes more than 200 meters further inland.

“During the 1990s dwelling homes were about 20 meters from the beach. Today water has covered where homes used to be, with coconut and other fruit trees washed away by the eroding waves. Only a few palms remain standing in salt water, but their growth is deteriorating,” John Akosia, a villager, said.

The smaller outer islands in the country are hit hard by the rising seas. In the Ontong Java atoll, crops are dying due to salinity of the swamp and sandy soil resulted from salt water intrusion.

Tuo, a remote island community in the far-flung eastern Solomon’s Temotu province is also facing the brunt of sea level rise. Graves at the village cemetery are now completely washed away by the scourge of the raging waves associated with king tides.

“The entire cemetery has been washed away, and the place is now in total jeopardy, a nightmare for concerned islanders as there is no proper burial ground to house the dead. Many elders are puzzled by what is happening on their land. The cemetery was about 50m away from the beach during the 1980s, but now the ocean is taking over the land,” Lawrence Nodua, an islander, local researcher and environmental campaigner said.

He noted that Tuo communities have embarked on a number of adaptation measures supported by UNESCO with the national government. Although attempt to construct a sea wall is difficult as the ground is easy to wear away, communities are joining forces with government and other NGOs on adaptation as well as mitigation measures.

Mr Nodua with financial backing from UNESCO’s France Bureau, has conducted a research in Tuo and surrounding islands. His latest report found that there is also a tremendous decline of coral reefs in the past two decades and is continuing unabated. Utterly concluded what other leading scientists stated about greenhouse gas emissions, as the principle cause of warming sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification that destroys coral reefs in the pacific islands.

However, in a confronting new study by Dr Simon Albert recently published in Environmental Research Letters, it stated that the sea-level rise has caused five Solomon Islands to vanish.

Dr Albert’s report, published last month, tracked the shape shifting of 33 reef islands in the country between 1947 and 2014. It found that five had been washed away completely and six more had been severely eroded. The study blamed the loss on a combination of sea-level rise and high wave energy.

Like other pacific islands and low-lying states, the Solomon Islands future is at stake. The focus now turns to COP23, where the country will join other likeminded states in their continued fight to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Solomon Islands stands in solidarity with the international community in reaffirming its commitment to the agreement. To date 195 countries have signed the Paris Agreement and 146 have ratified it.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare admitted that the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals remain the country’s last chance in creating a sustainable future for our people and humanity. He said Paris Agreement must not allow to fail.

Expressing his disappointment on President Donald Trump on the intention of United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Sogavare said Climate change is a global issue that needs global action now.

“The government has been working with a number of Non-governmental Organisation and multilateral partners, some of which include UNDP, SPREP and GEF to build resilience to the impacts of climate change,” Acting, Director of Climate Change in the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM), Hudson Kauhiona said in an interview.

He said the Solomon Islands government is tackling climate change impacts on two way mitigation. One is the partnership with UN REDD+ Programme which the government is partnering with local communities on its implementation to promoting the importance of sustainable forest management (SFM), enhance of caron stock and conversation of carbon stock.

On January this year, the REDD+ programme spread its arms to Isabel province, the third amongst the earmarked pilot sites for REDD+ programme, after Ulawa-Ugi in Makira and Kolombangara in Western Province.

According to REDD + Team Leader, Cathy Unga, the programme is now in its second phase and working towards qualifying to its full implementation.

Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry and Research, Vaeno Vigulu said REDD + is a new programme and a recommended measure for mitigation and adaptation to climate change that is on trial in local setups.

The initial REDD+ stands for; Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation with the plus sign covering – Conservation of forest carbon stocks; Sustainable management of forests; and Enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

At the same time, Mr Kauhiona said the government is initiating measures to enhance the country’s energy efficiency and decrease resilience on fossil fuels through solar and other renewable energy sources.

“We are joining the fight for global action in an effort to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level. We are focusing on ambitious actions to address the underlying causes of climate change,” Mr Kauhiona said. He highlighted that sea levels here have risen three times the global average since 1993, reaching up to 10 millimetres per year.

MECDM developed the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) which sets out priority areas for climate change adaptation in the country.

Last year, Australia has committed around SB$5.8 million to building climate change resilience and reducing emissions in the country over the next five years.

The people of rural Roviana in Western Province have taken ownership of a five-year Climate Change Resilience Plan (2013 – 2017) supported by Australian Government’s Pacific Adaptation Strategy Assistance Programme (PASAP).

Dr Simon Albert wrote on the summary of results from PASAP that the programme has made the environment and people ready.

Some of the actions include construction seawalls near essential infrastructure, encouraged new marine reserves, including connections between coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystem, improve people’s understanding of the importance of mangroves, ensure buffer zones around rivers are respected by logging companies and improve transfer of traditional knowledge between generations.

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