Understanding the human side of climate change relocation
I was mindful, today, about the plight of many Solomon Islanders who have lived in harmony with nature for generations but are being forced to make very difficult decisions as climate change is driving them from their land and homes in the exposed coastal regions like Ontong Java
Difficult decisions, like those faced in past years by the people of Lau Lagoon and the community once resident on Taluabu but all who were compelled to leave their, land, their homes and way of life as the rising sea took away everything beneath the waves.
Writing about the increasing level of forced migration, Sarah M. Munoz, a political scientist at the University of Montreal, contributed an article to the publication ‘The Conservation.’ and I will quote some of her words.
“The story of resilience and determination highlights the specific challenges facing Pacific nations in their fight against climate change and their possible migrations. It illustrates, the difficulties arising from political struggles and state weakness have a real impact on the unfolding of planned relocation.
“Speaking of climate refugees, it is important we understand the challenges these vulnerable communities are facing. Far from wishing to seek asylum elsewhere, they are fighting for their land.
“We need to question the efficacy of the international system and of domestic governance in granting them the level of dignity and resilience they deserve. Decision-makers and organizations must learn that the consequences of climate change are deeply human.”
“Adding to a difficult political situation is the challenge of finding land in the Pacific Ocean. Not only is it limited, but customary ownership is prominent in the region.”
As I understand the situation regarding the former residents of Taluabu, they had no claim to land on Malaita, but for generations, Taluabu's inhabitants had been allowed to farm a parcel of land on the mainland, but landowners refused them permission to settle there permanently. I do not know the present situation. Perhaps, the Anglican Church of Melanesia was helpful in aiding displaced communities, like those from Taluabu in finding land and starting new lives.
Over the last few years, the issue of relocation has moved up the political agenda in Solomon Islands, but there still seems a long way to go before government-led plans to safely re-home entire tribes are put into practice.
Climate change is expected to have an increasing and striking impact on vulnerable communities in the Solomon Islands, especially in coastal regions where sea-level rise and increased climatic events will make it impossible for some residents to remain on their land.
Understanding the human side of relocation is important and very likely that some customary land claims might well have to be relaxed by legal changes if not by compromise and agreement to accommodate those forced to flee their homes and land.