BY IRWIN ANGIKI
It was just another cloudy Sunday afternoon, December 5, 2021, at Supizae island. Suddenly the sea rose.
Standing on the shore, Carl-Marx Qoso recalls he had to wade through “chest-high” water.
It was like, either the sea rose or Supizae island simply had just sank, he said.
The year’s king tide had arrived. But, it is the “biggest” residents have ever seen. And, they are scared.
Met Service tells Island Sun king tides are expected at this time of the year. But, due to the current La Nina climate pattern and climate change, our coastal communities and low-lying islands will be affected.
Supizae resident Elma Dediqula sent a video clip to Island Sun two days after, showing her family members wading through knee-deep water outside their house, which is situated about 50m inland north of the island.
Mrs Dediqula said three days following December 5 they had to get accustomed to this scenario.
She shares that they had thought they were relatively safe from king tides because their home was considered “further inland, on higher ground, about a metre above sea level”, plus no king tide had ever reached them before.
“Along the years past we’ve had king tides towards the end of the year, but never before has the sea water high level mark reached our chests,” says Supizae resident Mr Qoso, who describes himself as a 5.5-footer.
“Places where sea water had never reached before were now submerged. Only the higher inland of Supizae was spared because it’s a few metres high,” Qoso said.
After the waters subsided, their gardens such as bananas, cabbage, crops had yellow and brown leaves; killed by the seawater.
Qoso said luckily there was no rough weather which would have induced huge waves or swells, otherwise the December-5 king tide could have claimed lives.
“Not to mention the threat of crocodiles, which made us restless those few nights,” he adds.
Dediqula and Qoso are calling for the national government and the provincial government to relocate them to the main island of Choiseul.
Qoso said, “I have heard of relocation for a very long time, but the time is now. Authorities must relocate Taro and Supizae, not sit on this issue. We are under threat. Places water had never reached before are being invaded now.”
And they are not alone. Mr Glen Scott, a Supizae resident currently working in Honiara, says both the national and provincial governments should seriously look into the relocation issue for Taro and Supizae because along the years successive king tides have been observed to be higher than the last.
“King tides of 2010 and 2017 were in memory as being the biggest, especially the 2017 one, but they have been trumped by the December-5 king tide,” Scott said.
Sadly, in reality, nothing will immediately happen as hoped by the residents, with authorities revealing that any “realistic movement of people to higher locations might start in five years’ time”.
But, this in itself is only an estimate of the earliest time possible for this dream.
Choiseul province is reportedly the first province in the Solomon Islands to realise the gravity of the climate change threat, and began initiatives towards relocation as early as 2001.
Today, Choiseul is leading the country in the relocation ambition; already advanced in its programmes towards relocation of its population in vulnerable low-lying islands.
Supizae and Taro are low-lying islands about a kilometre west of the northern tip of mainland Choiseul. Taro hosts the provincial capital and is Choiseul’s economic hub.
By 2010 scoping studies resulting in in-depth documentation of Choiseul’s climate change resilience and adaptation capacity were underway, according to the Choiseul Province Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment Report, published in 2013. This report is significant towards Choiseul’s relocation plans.
But, while it looks good on paper, realistically any relocation now is not possible.
Of note in the 2013 report are “political indifference, economic disparities, population growth, and land tenure and social issues”, which are some of the factors contributing to the delay.
Mr Isaac Lekelalu, Choiseul’s relocation project manager, tells Island Sun that actual relocation might happen in the next five years.
“Frankly, the timeline for relocation, because it’s a long-term plan and project, and is currently in its planning and preparation stage, is in my estimation five years.
“For any relocation to happen now or next year is not possible, not true or realistic.
“Because at the moment, we are completing surveys on plots of land which Choiseul PSS, agriculture and forestry farming are situated on, and will have to register these parcels and tender them out for interested people.
“This also includes a plot of land on which the hospital on Taro will be relocated to.
“So, I’ll just say this, that about 2025 will be the year in which any relocation will likely go down.”
Lekelalu however, assures that the relocation project is a priority of the Choiseul provincial government.
He adds that this is despite the limited funding provided on the provincial level.
On the national level, he works with “government line ministries which provide technical and financial assistance every year, each ministry tends to the sector which comes under its responsibility, for example for energy and water supply we liaise with ministry of mines and energy, with the hospital, we work with the ministry of health”.
Interestingly, Lekelalu adds that the flow of Choiseul’s relocation project is not hampered by the global covid-19 pandemic and country’s states of emergency.
The national ministry of environment (MECDM) is one of the key partners of Choiseul in the relocation programme, supporting by way of projects and technical studies.
MECDM permanent secretary Dr Melchior Mataki explains to Island Sun that while his ministry is helping the province in its endeavour, things take time.
“As regards the relocation of Taro, Choiseul Province has an ongoing project for the relocation of Taro township to Tarekukure (Choiseul Bay).
“It has commissioned and completed several technical and scientific studies using both provincial and govt resources including support from externally funded projects under the Choiseul Integrated Climate Change Adaptation Programme.
“Choiseul Province has also approached the ministry (MECDM) to help them secure resources through the multilateral environmental and climate change funding bodies such as the Green Climate Fund.
“Their request has been included in a pipeline of project ideas to be developed for submission Green Climate Fund, however, this will take time as an appropriate Accredited Entity must be identified and the necessary project preparations must be completed as well.
“However, I am aware Choiseul Province is continuing with its Taro relocation project.”
La Nina is not helping
Solomon Islands is currently under a La Nina climate system, and Met Service tells Island Sun while this is a usual time for occurrences such as king tides, the La Nina contributes to exacerbating the effects.
PS Mataki explains that systems such as El Nino and La Nina influence how aggravated or reduced natural phenomenon such as the king tide occurs.
“La Nina will make the tides extremely higher.”
MET Service Ocean Bulletin for December, 2021, explains how La Nina affects Solomon Islands:
“Higher waters is predicted for most parts of the country. Unusual high waters along the coastal areas in many parts of the country is expected to occur. Together with high tides that is usually occurs in December, communities along coastal regions on most province are expected to experience high waters along their shoreline and also coastal inundation.
“In short, La Nina brings more waters to our shores as a result of stronger westerly winds that pushes more waters eastward of the South Pacific resulting. As a country that sits at the western fringes of South Pacific, Solomon Islands is no exception to be the recipient of this higher waters. All these was due to La Nina, ENSO phase we are at now.
“Greater precautionary measures are to be taken to ward-off or mitigate coastal inundation and erosion.”