22 June 2019
Effects of climate change and implications for food security and health in the Solomon Islands.
Pacific fisheries ministers met during last week’s Forum Fisheries Committee meeting held in Pohnpei when climate change was perceived to be the single greatest threat to the security of the nations, and calls were made for more work to be done on adaptation measures.
In February last year. I had read in a publication entitled Marine Policy that small-scale fisheries were suffering as a consequence of climate change in the Pacific Islands region but little attention seems to have been devoted in the local media to the ever growing threat of climate change on how climate and environmental changes are impacting on food, culture and life generally, including health issues such as dietary changes leading to non-combinable diseases now so very evident in the Solomon Islands and its neighbouring Pacific islands states.
Looking specifically at the Solomon Islands I see climate change already having had a disproportional impact through rising sea temperatures, Sea level rise, salt water intrusion, coastal erosion, and extremes in weather events. altered rainfall patterns, coral reef bleaching and loss of 6 outer islands due to higher sea levels.
Putting all this into context, the Solomon Islands is extremely vulnerable to increasing climate change impacts because the country has limited resources, a high population rate, remoteness, rural poverty, weather shocks and its dependence on subsistence fishing and agriculture for livelihoods, trade and revenue.
I question, also, as of now, what opportunities and adequate means exist to finance climate change adaptation and mitigation measures to combat climate change already affecting the whole country?
It is my understanding the Pacific Community (SPC) has estimated that 75% of the Pacific Islands countries coastal fisheries will not meet their food security needs by 2030 due to a forecast of 50% growth, limited productivity of coastal fisheries and overfishing.
In the Solomon Islands, the traditional diets that have included root crops, fish, coconuts and fruit have largely been replaced by imported foods such as rice and flour carbohydrates as alternatives to fish.
The changed diets and cooking practices have led to the alarming increases in obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other related non-communicable diseases.
Unless resilience is built within the food system, climate change will increase food insecurity and malnutrition.
The increasing urgency around climate change impacts, food security challenges, community health concerns and the declining state of the coastal fisheries will require a greater prioritisation of coastal communities to help ensure effective adaptation measures, including mangrove re-planting, with successful sustainable resource plans.
While there has been some recent talk of reducing round log exports, re-forestation and downstreaming of forest timber it seems evident that logging activities are likely to continue till 2036, albeit perhaps at a lesser felling rate than the hitherto excessive and unsustainable levels for the past twenty years.
Solomon Islands forests are a much undervalued resource because the role of forests has often been overlooked in the context of food security.
Trees are pivotal in traditional agroforestry, providing shelter, shade and protection against the worst of wind, salt spray and the sun,
The Solomon Islands mangrove forests and other coastal trees also play multiple roles in protecting the coastline, buffering wind and wave action and contributing to fish life for food.
The trees are therefore a precious resource and with projected climate change patterns, forests and tree resources, apart from any continuing logging practices, will be further threatened by increased cyclone and storm activity, invasive pests and diseases.
Evidence of the ongoing damage to coconut palms by the rhinoceros beetle is proof enough of the prediction being likely.
It is vital, in my view, that the Solomon Islands government manages what is left of the forests sustainably in recognizing the part played by trees for coastal protection and for integrated agroforestry
The role forests play in sequestering atmospheric carbon must be fully recognized in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.