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Socio-economic effects of environmental change in Fiji and the Pacific PDF Print E-mail
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 The World at Large

Two-thirds of the world is poor, one-third is desperately poor. That's 3.7 billion people who have to live without the things we take for granted - food and nutrition, clean water and proper sanitation, and education for their children.

With only five years left until the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York on 20-22 September 2010 to accelerate progress.

Scheduled amid mixed progress and new crises that threaten the global effort to halve extreme poverty, the summit was "a crucially important opportunity to redouble our efforts to meet the Goals," Mr Ban said, referring to the targets adopted at the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, aimed at slashing poverty, hunger, disease, maternal and child deaths and other ills by a 2015 deadline.


Fiji Islands has a national population of 837,271 persons (2007 census) compared to 775, 077 in 1996, of which approximately 51% live in urban areas, which is estimated to reach 61% of the population by 2030. More than half of this urban population (approximately 57%), are concentrated in the Lami – Suva – Nasinu – Nausori corridor. In the next 20 years, 5,225 land leases are expected to expire around Fiji and if these leases are not renewed more people will end up in Informal Settlements or drift to Urban areas. It is now recognized that the greater Suva area urban population has now reached such a size, that it would grow even in the absence of migration from rural areas, and furthermore that these urban areas are critical for future socio-economic development of the country, given that approximately 60% of national GDP is produced in Fiji’s two major cities and towns.

In 2006, 185 informal settlements were identified across Fiji providing shelter to an estimated population of 100,000, in which an ECREA study asserted that a third of these informal settlement urban households lived below the poverty line with limited opportunities to generate cash incomes. A local newspaper quoted 200 of these informal settlements. These informal settlements depict degradation of social, economic and environmental conditions, highlighting their vulnerability to rapid urban growth. Rural to urban migrations have caused informal settlements to grow, informal economies to thrive, increased pressures on land, with environmental, infrastructure and municipal services being put under stress.

Many of Fiji’s main towns and the two major cities are coastal, and at the mouth of significant rivers and waterways and are affected by flooding, special attention should be paid to identify their vulnerabilities to potential climate changes and environment impacts.

Link between poverty, socio-economic development and environment changes

Let us just briefly look at some of these socio-economic developments and their impact or relationship with the populace, more so, the poor, marginalized people of Fiji.

Central/Eastern Division

In 2003, the greater Suva area had the highest number in informal settlers at 42,435 people (8, 487 households within 72 settlements) with Nasinu having the fastest growth. An increase forecasted of over 90,000 people and placing an enormous strain on all infrastructure such as water supply, sewerage, electricity, waste management, roads, medical services and social services.

Lami Town had a population of 20,529 (2007) with approximately half of the residents located within peri-urban areas. Lami Town Council took measures to address waste management through the closure of the landmark Lami rubbish dump which had served the greater Suva area and subsequent rehabilitation of the site, as evidence remains of degradation to the Lami coastline. Definitely not helped with derelict fishing vessels an eye-sore in the Bay of Islands area of Waiqanake.

Capital Suva City recorded a total population of 85,691 in 2007 of which some 11,210 are located in peri-urban areas. Suva is currently showing a negative growth rate because of the incorporation of Nasinu as a Town (Bureau of Statistics asserts loss of 49% of the Suva population to Nasinu and Nausori). Suva City faces many challenges with traffic congestion, inefficient and unreliable delivery of water and sanitation services, social disruptions often in connection with informal settlements and a need to invigorate effective rate collection and strengthen its financial management systems for better balanced service delivery in order to raise living standards and provide social uplift to the poor through integrated and inclusive housing developments. Suva City is attracting informal settlements on State and Native land in highly vulnerable areas such as mangrove swamps, foreshore areas and along creek bank reserve as these areas seem readily accessible to transportation, employment opportunities, education and social services as the affordability of proper housing within the Suva City is unattainable for a high percentage of these low wage earners.

Nasinu Town is the largest urban area in Fiji in terms of population with 76,064 people in 2007, (majority of people from non-renewal of land and sugarcane farm leases), where it is estimated that more than 27% of the total population in Nasinu live on or below the poverty line.

Nausori Town had a population of 47,604 (2007) and grew up around Fiji's second largest sugar mill. Nausori is now challenged with the provision of adequate housing for its residents, waste management, the provision of services and frequent flooding of the Rewa River which adds to the already heavy costs of critical infrastructure facilities. The rapid movement of people to Nausori is placing greater demands on the need to provide more on basic essential services and development particularly of the vast available native and freehold lands including good agricultural land which is under great pressure for residential and commercial development from the private and public sectors.

Navua, Serua & Namosi

The total population of Navua Town based on the 2007 census is 4,969 persons. Based on the current growth rates, it is expected that the population of Navua will be approximately 6,200 persons in the year 2016. The Indo-Fijian population forms the predominant ethnic group residing in the greater Navua area. However in the 2007 census relative percentage of itaukei population has shown high growth rates. The topography is generally flat, low lying land with majority of the land ranging from one (1) to three (3) meters above sea level. The low topography of the flood plains and the extensive drainage patterns associated with it combined with the proximity to the Navua River allude to the fact that the area is quite susceptible to flooding.

Western Division

Nadi Town recorded a population of 42,284 in 2007 which is growing at 2.8% with over 70% of its population residing in peri-urban areas. Whilst Nadi is fortunate in that it does not have any informal or underserviced settlements (apart from Native village reserve area of which there are many within the Town boundary but which are excluded from municipal regulations including paying rates) within its municipal boundary. Nadi has focused its efforts towards its tourism service based economy to provide employment and income as well as attracting other educational, training and industrial opportunities to support the town’s rapid urban growth and stimulate economic growth.

Nadi has also been prone to flooding. The January 2009 flash flood which caused widespread damage to homes, businesses and schools leaving communities with limited or no access to basic water and sanitation services for prolonged periods and the risk to public health illnesses. A 1998 study by JICA called Watershed Management & Flood Control identified for the four major Viti Levu Rivers (Rewa, Navua, Sigatoka, and Nadi). This has resulted in immediate dredging of the Nadi River, watershed management through bank protection and stabilisation, with plans to construct a diversion channel. This further highlighted Nadi’s high vulnerability to climate change, the lack of preparedness for disaster management and response, the need for better drainage facilities and detailed assessment on the hydrological system of the Nadi River and its tributaries leading to the estuary and likely effects of hydrological changes caused by major tourism foreshore developments through reclamation along Nadi Bay (Denarau, Wailoaloa, Naisoso).

Lautoka is Fiji’s second largest city (population of 50,000 in 2008, a doubling of population since it became a city in 1977 and has a growth rate of between 2-3% per annum). Located on the north-west coast of Viti Levu and is approximately 20 km north of Nadi International Airport. The Sugar City grew to support the sugar industry and later a number of other major industries such as timber, pine chips, garment, distillery, brewery, steel and fishing and soon from a reliable source – a proposed casino.

Within Lautoka City are a number of informal settlements either on native reserve land through the vakavanua arrangement or on state land located in highly vulnerable areas susceptible to climate change, soil erosion, flooding, poor drainage, public health issues particularly in residences along creek bank reserves, major drainage channels and the across a large expanse of the foreshore area. Flooding is also a concern for Lautoka City and its residents and the need to undertake a feasibility study on the stability of the underground drains that run directly under the city. Furthermore, in recognising the need for waste management, both Lautoka City and Nadi Town are presently working in partnership waste minimization and recycling promotion project which focuses on developing a solid waste management plan to promote the 3R Model of reduce, reuse and recycle. The Vunato Rubbish (Lautoka) dump has to become more sustainable and increase its service lifespan through awareness programmes with the residents to implement and attain any partial success.

Labasa, Vanua Levu (Northern Division, Province of Macuata)

ECREA’s Faith and Society Programme (FSP) highlighted the breakthrough happening among Christian churches at the grassroots level. One was the willingness of church leaders to undertake significant shifts from ‘denominationalism’ towards an ecumenical outlook and fellowship. The other was the growing awareness that Christian churches will have to make positive contributions in advocating social justice to the lives of the people in the communities and to the well being of the nation as a whole.

Through FSP’s local community facilitators mobilized on the environmental pollution of the Qawa River and its impacts on the lives of the people residing in Labasa. The Qawa River pollution from the Labasa Sugar Mill was identified by the ecumenical grassroot movement to raise their collective concerns about the continuous waste disposal in the Qawa River. They were greatly concerned about the health and livelihood of the people. In their discussions the church leaders proposed immediate action. The Commissioner Northern, the Mill Management and the Department of Environment dialogued on their own resolutions.

Environment, Climate Change Facts

Evidence – there is existing evidence that climate change is real and human activity is its main cause;
Impacts – there is immense and wide-ranging impact practically affecting all ecosystems and sectors. All these impacts pose serious threats to the economies of the Small Island Developing States (SIDs), its environment and society, in particular the poor and vulnerable (eg: reduction of fish stocks);
Pacific Contributions – The Pacific Region contributes less than one percent (1%) of the total global green house gases (GHG) and now their livelihoods are being threatened [eg: Tokalau, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati (Tebua Tarawa, Abanuea)];
Reduced emissions – the developed Nations have promised a reduction of emissions of 25 – 40% below the 1990 levels by 2020; And further reduction to 80% by 2050;
Carbon Emissions – a new study published by Maplecroft (17/11/10), rated 183 countries on their CO2 emissions from energy use and identified Australia (#2), USA (#3), Canada (#4) as three of the top six nations guilty of the worst performance in relation to CO2 emissions. The group-of-6, are the only countries rated as 'extreme risk' by Maplecroft on the basis of their high CO2 emissions from energy use. The tons of carbon emissions per capita for these countries: Australia: 20.82, United States: 19.18 and Canada at 17.27. Compare these amounts to the drowning citizens of Kiribati whose per capita emissions are a mere 0.3 tons;
Tarawa Climate Change Conference – arrived at the AMBO Declaration, that was endorsed by Australia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Fiji, Japan, Kiribati, Maldives, Republic of the Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, and Tonga.
Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, attended the conference as observers, yet did not sign the declaration.
Environment Refugees – or climate change refugees is a term that is a reality. We previously accepted the Banaban peoples of Ocean Island – mined and robbed of its phosphate resources. They are now part of Fiji’s ethnic minorities in the Island of Rabi.


ECREA suggests improvements needed in the following areas:

Raw Data
 Conduct assessment, collate data, compare and analyse and share the information – it shouldn’t be top secret especially when it concerns and impacts citizens
 Identify problems areas and strategise on these vulnerable areas of Climate Change impacts and environmental vulnerabilities, including disaster preparedness.

 Identify stakeholders by wide consultation
 Establish steering committees and working groups
 Create awareness of the issues profiled
 Social cohesion – identify and create community partners
 Identify & link local CSOs involved and capable of supporting community based settlements
 Partner training and academic institutions (FNU, TPAF) in providing community-based technical support through participatory processes.

Secure shelters and houses as homes

 Housing provides security, what are the housing needs and demands?
 Is our local building industry capable of providing affordable secure houses and homes?
 Are our financial institutions breaking the back of these home owners?
 Are the RBF, FDB, FTIB, FNPF geared towards supporting local investment?
 Construction industry and building materials supply are they affordable and secure?
 Relocation: The last option and NOT eviction
 Resettlement: Upgrading areas for follow-up support and to organise necessary logistical support towards relocation and resettlement.
 Review how municipalities and local government manage incomes and expenditures especially in past borrowing and debt servicing
 Review alternative financing options
 Highlight any major social, economic, financial and environmental issues
 And strengthen the institutions that manage and implement these services.

The poor, in particular the already marginalized Informal Settlers already lack the access to basic essential services, such as land tenure, affordable housing and shelter, basic education, employment opportunities, reasonable income, etc – so when Public Offices and Private entities make policies and hasty decisions with development, distribution of wealth, welfare benefits, national budget, and threatened evictions, ECREA pleads to consider that they are dealing with human beings and that they fiducially care and be socially responsible.

From an Ecumenical perspective, “we must keep in mind that the Kingdom of God cannot and must not be reduced simply to material development and liberation – it is more than this!”

Mr. Aisake Casimira, Pacific Council of Churches (PCC)
Fr. Kevin J.Barr, Consultant to Peoples’ Community Network (PCN)
Ms. Chantelle Khan, Coordinator for SEEP Ltd
Mr. Sirino Rakabi, FSP Coordinator, ECREA
Ms. Litia Driver, ESJP Coordinator, ECREA
Mr Fei Tevi, General Secretary, Pacific Council of Churches (PCC)
Ms. Sina Brown-Davis, Activist, of Maori and a Diaspora Pacific Islander

Programme of Action, 1994 UNFPA
Let’s Change the World, 1994, Kevin J.Barr
Christianity, Poverty and Wealth at the Start of the 21st Century, 2003, Chantelle A.Khan/Kevin J.Barr
Making Poverty History, 2005, Kevin J.Barr
Blessed are the Poor/Rich, 2009, Kevin J.Barr

A Citizens Guide to Climate Refugees:





Nuku Alofa Declaration: Indigenous Peoples Of The Pacific




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