Frightening reality of cyclone season, sea level rising and climate change

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 26 February 2019, 12:00AM

The reality on the ground is quite frightening. What with king tides, flooding, earthquakes, heavy rain, sea level rising and threats of developing cyclones, this is not the best time to be living in this part of the world. 

But if you are a visitor to our shores, and we know we have a number of them who are in the country this week for the European Union, ACP and United Nations related meetings, welcome to our reality.

If you ever doubted the climate calamities and the extreme weather patterns we experience in these parts, you will doubt no more. The past few days would’ve been enough to give you a reality check about life here, and perhaps more reason to consider the call for help that is constantly pushed by our leaders, when it comes to the international stage.

It’s not all paradise, swaying palm trees, exotic cocktails and beautiful beaches.

At the time this piece was being compiled last night, there was a tropical depression intensifying with a very high chance of turning into a cyclone. It’s not the first threat we’ve had since Christmas.

Last night, this was a nation living in fear and for very good reason. We have been devastated so many times by these natural disasters that people have had it. Lives have been lost, properties destroyed and entire communities relocated, costing millions and millions of tala that could otherwise have been used to develop lives and improve their prospects.

In this part of the world, it’s not just the cyclone season that brings real anxiety and trepidation. Climate change, as cliché as it sometimes sounds, is very real.

While most of the attention is diverted to Kiribati, Tuvalu and other smaller island states that are sinking, sea level rise and coastal erosion are quite alarming on these shores. All you need to do is drive by during high tide.

A couple of incidents during the past two weeks, which have been highlighted on this newspaper, provide perfect proof. Last week, the villagers of Afega and Lotoso’a Saleimoa shared their concerns about the rapid rise in the sea level, which triggered real panic among families. 

 “It was new to see the sea water come up that high,” Gauifaleai Patu of Lotoso’a Saleimoa said. “This is the first time I have seen the tide this high, and you could even paddle your canoe, where the grass is. 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.”

When this newspaper visited, small pools of seawater were seen in front of family homes.

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

“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.” 

Well that was last week.

This week, another story appeared on the front page of yesterday’s Samoa Observer titled “Villagers live in fear.” The story highlighted the plight of residents living along the edge of the Solosolo village who fear for their lives.

Among them are 74-year-old Faumuina Sisilia Talamaivao and her husband, 80-year-old To’omata Leota Talamaivao, who have lived to see the frightening rise in sea level.

 “This seawall was done in 2008, about 10 years ago and it needs maintenance. It’s sinking because all the rocks have been washed out,” said Faumuina. “What makes it worse is that here’s the sea, and there’s the river down there, so when it rains then the river rises and sea rises at the same time, which makes it worse as you can see now.”

 “We are worried because it is life-threatening so in a span of more than 10 years, this has happened.” 

Faumuina said her family is the worst-hit and she is seeking assistance from anyone or any organization.

 “The seawall was done because of this very same issue. This sea wall was withstanding for a few years but it’s not going to last forever isn’t it? It needs maintenance and that’s what it needs right now, just a few rocks to make it safer.”

In the long term, we believe these people are going to need more than a few rocks. They will probably need to move to higher ground. No amount of rocks will be able to protect these properties. The best thing they can do now – with the help of the Government of course – is to prepare them for relocation. 

It’s a frightening thought but it’s the truth. 

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 26 February 2019, 12:00AM

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