Climate change is a ‘new concept’ in Vanuatu
Dr Abraham Hauriasi, General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, writes about how the people of Vanuatu are being forced to learn about – and respond to – climate change in the light of extreme weather and rising sea levels.
The term climate change is a new concept to me and a majority of people in Vanuatu.
Our population of 278,000 is struggling to understand how climate change impacts on their daily lives, and our government, alongside various NGOs, is investing a lot of financial and technical resources towards increasing people’s knowledge, while implementing mitigating activities and safe practices.
But while our knowledge of the mechanisms of climate change might be in its infancy, the people living on the 80-plus islands that make up the Republic of Vanuatu can easily observe its effects.
There is coastal erosion from the impact of rising sea levels and storm surges. [According to an article in The Guardian: ‘Rising sea levels make island nations such as Vanuatu more vulnerable to storms and amplify the impact of tropical cyclones.’]
In addition, irregular rainfall is causing soil to run-off into creeks and river systems, ending in lagoons causing reef pollution and depleting marine habitats.
We also experience earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones, and we have four active volcanoes on our islands.
The volcanoes regularly emit volcanic ash that damages crops and homes, pollutes water sources, and damages natural habitats.
Tropical Cyclone Pam – in March 2015 – was the worst natural disaster ever to hit Vanuatu. Eleven people died, thousands of families were displaced, and there was extensive damage to homes, infrastructure, food gardens and forests.
The Anglican Church of Melanesia has been working with the government and our donor partners to provide relief supplies and medium-term assistance. Our particular focus is on areas that the government and other agencies are unable to cover – mainly the northern islands of Penama Province and Torba Province.
During April and May, this assistance included donations of:
- 1.8 tons of rice to schools, benefiting 1,500 students;
- 14 tons of rice to communities in Penama, benefiting 2,600 households (13,000 people);
- 2 tons of shelter construction materials, clothes, homeware and kitchen utensils, shipped to Penama;
- 3 tons of rice and 1 ton of seeds (yams, kumala vines and cassava) and garden tools, shipped to the islands of Merelava, Gaua and Vanualava, benefiting 180 households (1,000 people).