Laying the foundations for a Climate Change-ready Samoa

Early this week Samoa played host to the 2nd Pacific Islands Roundtable on International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which was convened in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The crux of the discussions at the May 14-15 conference in Apia revolved around IHL and how it affected the region and the world, and whether there is an overlap between the law, its shortcomings in times of conflict and Climate Change.

The conference attracted delegates from 12 Pacific Island states and included representatives from the ICRC and international organisations such as the Commonwealth Secretariat. As the co-host of the 2019 roundtable discussions, Samoa hoped to build on the success of the first roundtable hosted by the Government of Fiji in 2017, as well as share its own experiences in IHL and how it tackled some of the challenges it faced at the national level as a small island state.

But before we delve into the discussions at the Apia roundtable and look at its relevance to Pacific Island states, we should define IHL and what it entails for Samoans.

The ICRC definition of IHL is as follows: “It is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. IHL is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.”

And are issues connected to IHL relevant to modern-day small island states like Samoa and its people? Yes. How? Climate change. Why? Food security and poverty challenges — brought on by the impact of Climate Change — can have a long-term effect on a country’s progress and prosperity.

In September last year, a report released by the United Nations’ Food and and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) pointed to Climate Change as the leading cause of increasing global hunger. 

The heads of the FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) appealed for an “integrated approach” to tackle the effects of Climate Change on food production systems.

“If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its form by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity food systems and people’s livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes,” the leaders said.

The Commonwealth Secretariat director (peace and governance), Katalaina Sapolu, made reference to the impact of Climate Change in her presentation at the Apia conference.  

“Extreme weather conditions can lead to water shortages, food shortages, when crops die it can lead to starvation. And a hungry man is an angry man,” she said.

“It is in those moments, when you have the effects of climate change, extreme poverty and extreme hunger; people will crowd to areas where they will get resources. If there is not enough space, all of that condensation of people in one small area, can lead to conflict.”

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