Villagers live in fear of unusual rise in sea level

Villagers on the west coast of Upolu are living in fear over an “out of the blue” natural phenomenon, where a rapid rise in the sea level led to water reaching their doorsteps. 

The villagers of Afega and Lotoso’a Saleimoa shared their concerns about the rapid rise in the sea level, which they said triggered panic amongst the families. 

“It was new to see the sea water come up that high,” Gauifaleai Patu of Lotoso’a Saleimoa said yesterday, in an interview with the Samoa Observer. 

“This is the first time I have seen the tide this high, and you could even paddle your canoe, where the grass is on Wednesday. Compared to previous years and even during Cyclone Evan (in 2012), the sea water level was nothing compared to what we saw earlier this week.”

The mother recalled that they noticed the changes in the sea level on Tuesday and “it got really bad on Wednesday”, which she said made it difficult for their family car to be parked in front of the house. 

Small pools of water seen in front of the family home, when this newspaper visited the village yesterday, is the only evidence left of the natural phenomenon. 

Ms. Patu said she had already sought help from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resource (M.N.R.E) to build a seawall, which is currently underway in the area behind her family house. 

The mother was told she had to write an official letter to the Ministry with her request. 

Three villages down the road is Afega, another community that was badly affected by the natural phenomenon this week. 

“It was unlike anything I had seen at our area since I have lived here,” said Peo Sione Fa’alelea of Afega.

The father of four said the rapid rise in the sea level occurred on Wednesday evening at around 7.00pm and it reoccurred yesterday morning. 

“As you can see from the debris from the sea water, it came past our house to the front door, all the way to the other side of the road,” Peo said, pointing to the road that is about 8 meters away from his door steps. 

“If you also look at our outdoor kitchen, it has already claimed it and is rapidly swallowing up the rocks to the back of our house. What happened on Wednesday and this morning was unbelievable and its hard to explain it, unless you have seen it yourself.”

Since the event on Wednesday, sea water has reached the back of the houses of the family together with their neighbours. 

“Last night (Wednesday) the waves were crushing on the cement of the house. We took our children with my wife and waited on the other side of the village…we panicked and we were unsure of what was happening – if it was a tsunami or not. It wasn’t until the sea water lowered later on last night that we felt it was safe to come back home.”

According to Peo, if there is something that can be done to assist them, it would be a seawall to defend them and their properties.  

 “There is no seawall to defend us from the rising sea level, and if something does happen at night, our children and elderly are the most vulnerable ones,” he said. 

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“Our plight and I know all of us living on this area are in need of the Government’s help to provide that seawall for our safety. I am afraid for my children, and I am afraid that when we are not at home with them, something might hit us and we will be too late to help them. So what we do now is we take the children to our relatives inland if we are not at home, just incase something happens. It is a lot of moving around but my children’s safety is my priority.” 

 When he was asked if he had any plans to relocate with his family and move inland, the father said it is their last resort. 

“If the Government does not respond to our needs of a seawall, and we see that the worse is coming, then that will be our last option,” he said. 

“My wife grew up in this home together with our four children and her ancestors. This is the home they have known all their lives, but if our children’s live are at risk then we will move…we will rebuild our home again at any cost. But my only plea is for the Government that stands for our people to hear us out and please help us.” 

A neighbour and a 55-year-old grandmother of four, Asofa Tavita Si’itia, echoed similar sentiments.  

Living in an open house with her two daughters and granddaughter, Mrs. Si’itia was unable to sleep on Wednesday night. 

“I worry at night for my grandchildren,” said the grandmother. 

“It is frightening to think of what will happen when we are all asleep. The sea water came up near our door, and on Wednesday the water was below my knees. We have not planned for this, but one thing for sure is it can happen again and we need to prepare for it.”

Mrs. Si’itia said while her daughters had discussed the possibility of rebuilding their home, with the number of grandchildren she now has, she is unsure of those plans. 

“I was always worried about the sea water at the back of our house because we hear a lot of talk about climate change,” she said. 

“I told my children there was no point of renovating the house when the sea water could easily damage it. We want to move inland, that is something I have been thinking about, but the only problem is that will cost us in terms of clearing a land and rebuilding another house.”

The 55-year-old mother said the sole bread winner for their family is her son-in-law, who is a police officer and relocating will cause a lot of financial stress for her family. 

“I have been very reluctant from the idea of relocating, but if it will affect my children and grandchildren, we will move and start from scratch again. I also fear that when the time comes and I pass on, this will be a problem that my young children will face and have to live with.”

The mother also pointed to her husband’s grave in front of her home, and said not only did the sea water wash up to where her husband is buried, but had also washed away her garden that she now shifted in planting pots and placed on shelves.

A 64-year-old spinster, Tafa’i Fata Kolao also shared her experience.

“It was quite different and it is something that you will always remember,” said Ms. Kolao.

“All my life I have lived here and the sea level had not come up this high. But on that day I was shocked to see it wash up on the other side of the road, and it brought a lot of rubbish with it. 

“I only hope we can get some kind of help from the Government or from donor countries.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment was contacted for a comment yesterday. The Chief Executive Officer, Ulu Bismarck Crawley, is currently abroad and Acting C.E.O. Annie Rasmussen has not responded to a request for an interview from this newspaper. 

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