The ocean is taking away my island
22 Sep 2014 by Ursula Rakova, Executive Director, Tulele Peisa
I was born on the Carteret Islands, a group of six atolls just off the north east coast of Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea. They are home to over 2,700 people. Women are the traditional custodians of the land here. My grandmother passed our small island to my mother and she passed it on to me. But I will never be able to pass it to my daughter. Her heritage will be gone by then.
I don’t know much about science. What I know is that our shores are being eaten away. And nothing can stop the erosion.
The hardest thing I have ever had to do was tell my family and friends that we needed to leave our homes.
We are climate refugees. And we are fighting for our lives.
Our best option is now 71 hectares of land on Bougainville Island that has been generously allocated to us. One hectare of land has been given to the seven families who have already relocated.
The kids here play barefoot rugby. The adults work the land. The family buildings are made of local wood and bamboo walling and roofing iron.
We’re working with the school to build an additional four classrooms that will also house a library to accommodate the people who will move here. The buildings are spare with partially open walls to allow light and fresh air in. The kids sit on plastic chairs, the type you might have in your backyard.
It’s exciting to watch the village take shape. It means larger and more permanent structures are just around the corner. To move 2,700 people requires a lot of planning. Those 200-odd families will all need homes.
But not everyone is willing to move. The older people and some of the younger generation are saying they don’t want to go. They don’t want to leave their livelihood, their values and their culture behind. Eventually, they will have to.
We know we’re not alone in this fight against climate change. I’ve met people from Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu who are also experiencing rising sea levels. I’m coming to New York during Climate Week, to share my story with other affected people, including those at the United Nations Development Programme Equator Prize.
Climate change isn’t just about statistics or science. It’s about human rights and the vulnerability of people who live on Pacific atolls or in other small island states where the environment is wreaking havoc.
Where are our human rights when we’re being forced out of our land, homes and livelihoods by the changing climate? Where is justice at play for us as a displaced community?
Nobody has stepped in to save us. We need support from our government. But, in the meantime, we just have to go ahead and save ourselves.
*This article was published in The Huffington Post.