Plea for help to relocate

Seveci Tavaga showing the landsldie caused by climate change in his village in Sawani, Naitasiri. Picture: NICK SAS

A lot has changed in Sawani Village since Seveci Tavaga was a boy. The landscape and environment of the village he has called home for his whole life has evolved dramatically.

Over the past 20 years, he and the community have encountered more and more flooding – none worse than the “big flood” in 2013. After that event, the community was told to relocate to nearby higher ground, and they continue to face an uncertain future.

“We are part of this soil,” he said. “And it will be a very difficult task for us to move. We are born here and we will die here”

Mr Tavaga, the Vuna/Naitasiri Provincial Council district representative, spoke to The Fiji Times after Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama recently commented at the Naitasiri Provincial Council meeting that Sawani villagers needed to relocate to the nearby elevated areas to save themselves from the continuous landslides and flooding occurring on the riverbanks close to the village.

Mr Tavaga said the relocation was not an easy task for 75 households and 381 people in the village.

“After the big flood in 2013, the PM and his entourage came to our village and told us to relocate our village.

“They are just telling us to move (but they haven’t) made a road or anything, and they just expect us to move.”

Mr Tavaga said the soil erosion problem at their river bank was getting worse day by day.

“There are few villagers that have moved to a safer place, a few houses are already there.”

Moving to safer ground

One of them is 50-year-old Nareo Vunivosa. He has moved his family away from the Sawani river, further back from where most of the houses in the village sit. But the father of three said he was still worried about the continuous flooding in the village.

“Ten years back, I moved to this place because of the flood,” Mr Vunivosa said.

“Even here my house was not raised to this height, so during heavy rain it used to get flooded.

“To save my home and contents from floodwaters, I raised it to this height.” Mr Vunivosa said he agreed to the idea of the village moving up to the hills, but they needed assistance.

“Relocating is not easy. “There is no road, electricity or water supply and a lot of money is needed to move up to higher ground.”

Mr Vunivosa said the Government should build a road and take electricity and water supply to the proposed site so that people could relocate to that place.

Flooding is getting worse

Mr Tavaga believes the problem has worsened because of the effects of climate change, causing heavier and more consistent rainfall – even in the dry season. “Deforestation in the area has also meant more severe runoff into the river area,” he said.

“The community attempted to stop soil erosion by planting vetiver grass on the banks, but their attempts were unsuccessful. “(These floods) did not happen before, and for the past 15-20 years, it has gotten worse.

“Due to the continuous floods and soil erosion, the river has become shallow.

“That is the reason the river easily gets flooded now.”

Mr Tavaga said the river next to their village was quite wide and deep before. “If the erosion of the river banks continues like this, a time will come when the river here will be entirely covered with soil.

“We have been taking up this soil erosion issue to the provincial council meetings. I have been with the provincial council for about six years now.

“Nothing is happening, they didn’t do anything. “All of this area gets flooded during heavy rain and our voices are not heard.”

Sawani Village has some big houses and it also has a community hall and a church, and Mr Tavaga says the cost to move would be too much for the villagers without government support.

“How can we leave behind these big houses and it also has a community hall and a church, and Mr Tavaga says the cost to move would be too much for the villagers without government support.

“How can we leave behind these big houses and this big church here.

“The worse thing is that no one has come back to us to tell us to relocate and give us their plans.

“They simply did not come back. We are really worried. “Our talatala (church pastor) and a few households have moved to a safer place but the rest are still here.”

We will die here, says Tavaga

Although Mr Tavaga said they would be open to relocating if there was government support, he said moving his community would be painful.

“It was our forefathers who came and settled here from Viria Village,” he said.

“They stayed in Nakobalevu before moving here.

“Most of us are born here and we will die here.

“We are not totally against the idea of relocating, but we want the road, water and electricity over there so that people can start building their houses there.”

  •  Questions sent to the Ministry of Environment and PM’s Office on the claims made by Sawani villagers remain unanswered.
  • The Fiji Times would like to thank Sawani villagers, ABC International Development and the Australia Pacific Climate Partnership for their support in compiling this report.

More Stories