Hopelessness hovers over Babanga villagers 

BY BEN BILUA

If scientist believes that sea level will continue to increase, I’m confident that our village needs to be relocated because this island will sink underwater in the next five to 10 years.

These are sentiments from 38-year-old Wilfred Lee Teho who lived at Babanga Village – a tiny village at risk of sea level rise.

Mr Lee Teho.

Babanga Village is located in the Western Province of Solomon Islands and is inhabited by close to 200 Gilberts’ – a minority group of people in Solomon Islands.

Mr Teho who moved to Babanga village in 2007 says things have changed drastically over the past five years.

This includes; extreme weather such as frequent heavy rain, strong wind, king-tide and overall sea level.

Teho says, sea level rise is the community’s most feared issue as they depends on dug-out walls for drinking water and cooking.

This house was few meters away from the shoreline when it was built. Now it is sitting above the shoreline.

“Our island has no running water so we depend on wells to get water for washing, cooking and even drinking. We also collect rain water on water tanks, but again rain water accessibility is short term.

“If there is no rain for a month, our tanks will be empty and if the sea level continues to increase will are doomed because our only water source will be contaminated by salt water,” he says.

Just like Teho, 60-year-old, Janet Tereven who lives at Babanga all her life described that the island is getting smaller in size.

Mrs Janet Tereven.

She says, the width of Babanga Island is less than 100 meters with a flat land with no knolls – meaning residence are at risk of Tsunami and high-swells.

“I’m worried because our village will be sinking in the next five to ten years.

“Not only that, root crops produce less fruits and recently we depend entirely on rice and other processed foods from the shops.

“As a woman, I feel helpless as I cannot do much to mitigate the ongoing risk pose by climate change,” Tereven says.

Seventy year-old, Reakai Waitusi Euta says, the shoreline has moved approximately five meters inland.

Mr Euta.

He recalls the houses were far from the shoreline in the 90s.

“I lived here for over 40 years and I cannot describe the changes and the effect of climate change to my community.

“Our village was really beautiful in the 90s, we planted flowers on our footpath. Now all these footpaths are just few meters from the shoreline and the flowers were all dead and gone due to salt water,” Euta says.

He also recalls finding seafood was not a problem in the 90s and his fellow villagers enjoy living on the quite island.

“I realized that fish is very difficult to catch at the nearby reefs. Some people believe that fish is scares because of the increasing population but I think, it is because of sea level rise.

“I believe fish are migrating to other islands or into the deep waters as our shorelines are getting hotter which leads to coral acidification.

“You have to paddle to other islands to get a good catch unlike before, there is abundant of sea foods just outside our village,” Euta says.

One of the wells the people use.

He says people’s health are also at risk as few wells have been contaminated by salt water.

Euta fears that sea level rise will force his people to leave the village living behind childhood memories and connections to the island.

“I always call Babanga a home but when salt-water were found in most walls, my hope for a better Babanga fades away bit by bit every day.

“As minority group of people in the Solomon Islands, my people are mentally and socially in trouble,” he says.

Youth Leader of Babanga village, Terry Anita says relocation is important and must be seriously considered.

Mr Terry Anita.

He says relocation is urgent as lives and properties are at risk as sea level rise is raising in an alarming pace.

“We have no time to waste and we cannot live here until that time when disaster strike

“I really think our leaders both at the national and provincial level need to recognize and consider our call.

“Come to our community and see for yourselves the challenges we faced day in day out.

“It is a pity that our leaders enjoy the luxury they have while people on the ground are suffering,” Anita says.

He says people at his village has been self-thought and try to cope with the changing weather pattern and sea level rise.

Newly elected Provincial Assembly Member of Western Province, Honorable Freedom Tozaka says effects of climate change can be seen in every island within Western province.

He says it is time for Western Provincial Government to seriously look into programs and plans that would help communities to adapt to the changing climate.

“I’ve been touring my Island during my campaign and see most coastal communities are badly affected by the sea level rise.

“I saw water running into an entire village during high-tide.

“I have advised by people to move inland but it will take time, because people are used to live in the coastal area.

“I will still try my best to help my people mitigate the issues brought in by climate change,” Tozaka says.

In a recent Assembly Meeting, Tozaka was very vocal on climate change urging the provincial government to take serious measures and resources to assist communities in low lying islands within the province.

Following pressure from affected communities, Premier Billy Veo says his government is looking at formulating climate change and environment policy to mitigate the ongoing challenges faced by communities within the province.

A dwelling house just few feets from the shoreline.

He says the effect of climate change has continued to threaten his people and his government has very limited manpower and resources to address the issue.

“My government will put all efforts to support affected communities in any way possible through window of necessities available within the WPG’s capabilities.

“First and foremost, climate change/environment is a non-devolved function hence Western Province does not have the mandate nor the resources to fully absorb the responsibility;

“Secondly, WPG will still need to formulate a climate change/environment policy to cater for how it plans to address climate change at the community/provincial level;

“Thirdly, we’ve liaised with the Ministry to provide a technical officer support our environment division but so far the Ministry has not been forthcoming; Veo said.

Special acknowledgment to Earth Journalism Network for supporting this article

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