Being proactive a necessity during climate change

Late last month a front page picture of a woman, standing on the edge of what used to be her home’s backyard staring down at a dry riverbed with boulders and uprooted tree roots and leaves, reminded us of how precarious life can be in an age of climate change.

Tupe Ioane, who has lived in Moamoa Fou with her family for 16 years, was in a dilemma. 

Her story in the 28 January 2021 Samoa Observer (Family appeals for help as river edges closer) revealed life changed, when Apia and the surrounding areas were overwhelmed by flash flooding following days of continuous rain in December last year and early last month.

Mrs Ioane’s home was not spared as a nearby river burst its banks and moved closer to their property.

“In the recent flooding, it removed another piece of our land,” she said in reference to the impact of the 6 January 2021 flash floods.

Last Wednesday another Moamoa Fou family spoke of their close encounter with the forces of nature, when the same river that threatens Mrs Ioane’s home, is now edging closer to theirs as heavy rain and flooding become the norm.

Soifua Apolosio Alaalatoa said in the 4 February 2021 Samoa Observer (Moamoa Fou family live in fear of floods) that the river within the vicinity of their house claimed the neighbour’s land in 2012 and flash flooding on 18 December 2020 and 6 January 2021 has now left them more vulnerable. 

He fears that more torrential rain that triggers flash floods exposes his house to the path of the river and could destroy his home. 

In Safotu, Savai'i, a mother and a grandmother, Fa’ata Tauasa, revealed how floodwater from an adjacent river forces them to flee their home and seek refuge with other families during heavy rain. 

In the 7 February 2021 Samoa Observer (Flooding fear displaces Safotu family), Mrs Tauasa laments the increasing frequency of flooding, and points to the impact of families moving further inland and building their homes next to river systems.

"I think the main reason why it has been flooding constantly, more recently, is that we now have so many people from our village who have relocated further inland, and have built their houses and plantations back there where the river is.”

Tragically, the testimonies of Mrs Ioane, Soifua and Mrs Tauasa confirm the impact of climate change on the lives of ordinary citizens.

And the projections on the impact of climate change in Samoa and other Pacific Island nations between October 2020 and February 2021 don’t make good reading, if we are to go by a statement issued by the Pacific Meteorological Desk Partnership at the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme last October.

According to the S.P.R.E.P. Pacific Meteorological Desk Partnership, the region is currently in the middle of La Niña, which is expected to last through the first quarter of 2021. 

This will see countries in the central and eastern parts of the Pacific become more vulnerable to droughts while those in the south-west Pacific prone to floods and landslides with tropical cyclones likely to form further west.

The S.P.R.E.P. Director of Climate Change Resilience, Tagaloa Cooper, talked at that time of the overarching effect of the La Niña on the community. 

“This phenomenon (La Niña) may sound scientific, but the fact is that these terms and what they are will have direct impact on our lives in the Pacific, they will affect our food crops, our hygiene in the time of COVID-19 and our safety with the impacts of tropical cyclone season and floods or landslides in some parts of the region and potential drought in others.”

Over three months after the statements by the S.P.R.E.P. personnel, the vulnerability of our communities continue to be exposed by extreme weather events in December as well as the first two months of this year.

It is in these challenging times when citizens would expect more proactiveness from the relevant Government Ministries, when climate change has been at the front and centre of Government policy.

In that vein we commend the Associate Minister and Faleata No.1 Constituency M.P. Salausa Dr. John Ah Ching for visiting affected families in Moamoa, Sinamoga, Vaimoso and Lepea and furnishing a report to the Government.

Though to date families in Moamoa Fou, such as Mrs Ioane and Soifua, are yet to be officially advised if the Government will provide any form of assistance following the damage left by the floods.

A fortnight ago Salausa raised the issue in the Parliament and was supported by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, who urged the heads of the relevant Government Ministry to take action.

Four weeks of no action by the relevant Government Ministry could have dire ramifications for the affected families, especially with the Samoa Meteorological Division forecasting more rain and flooding in the days ahead.

Some families have already lost land and others are on the verge of losing their properties, if drastic action is not taken to either divert a river or provide some form of funding assistance, to enable them to relocate.

Whatever it is, the Government machinery should have swung into action, especially in an age of climate change when there shouldn't be any second-guessing. 

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