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Working in Tuvalu

Photo: OxfamAUS

Even if our contribution is small and that the impact of us making zero emissions will be close to nothing on climate change if nobody else does something, we should do our best and lead the way. Then everybody can look at us and say ‘look, they are helping themselves first’.

We meet Tataua Pese, the climate change and disaster management officer for the Red Cross on Tuvalu, in his office opposite the hospital. The Red Cross on Tuvalu is working mainly on climate change and health issues, with a community participatory approach.

Their climate change activities include a core team of volunteers trained in disaster response and as first aid trainers. The Red Cross runs ongoing awareness programs and has established a drama group working on both climate change and health.

Read his answers to our questions below.

Does climate change affect people on Tuvalu?
Climate change affects people, especially when it comes to food. A lot of families are dependent on fish. However, it has become harder to find fish the past years. The men have to go further out in the lagoon to find their daily fish. Climate change is one of several reasons for the decreasing fish stocks.

Local food production is also affected by saltwater intrusion. As many are unable to grow crops on their land anymore, they get more dependent on shops.

Our land is also eroding. The sea-level rise is eating the coast and makes people want to go inland. This is creating a lot of land issues that are taken to court.

Who are the most affected people on Tuvalu?
The most vulnerable are the families with not so much income. They don’t have the resources to adapt to the changes.

The changes in the weather for example: We get a lot more sunshine and have more droughts. The poorest don’t have the money to get enough water tanks to secure their needs.

Food prices are also rising and the poorest don’t have the money to buy the food. The fish is harder to catch and the fishermen have to go further out. This costs money as the petrol prices are rising. You need money to eat, especially on Funafuti. It is different on the outer islands.

In your view, what is the level of awareness? Among the youth? Among the elders?
The government, in partnership with the Red Cross and other NGOs, has done a lot for climate change awareness. However, people tend to ignore the danger. They have heard of climate change, but they only take it seriously when disasters strike.

About 5 in 10 youths knows about climate change or have attended a meeting or training session. Lots have been done on the climate change field, but it is difficult to estimate how much they actually understand.

Myself, I was not so aware of all of these issues before I got this job. I saw that the sea was rising, but I didn’t know the cause or the impact of it on Tuvalu. I also experienced that there was less rain, but I didn’t know why until I started working for the Red Cross.

Old people are a challenge. Some of the old people think that what is happening is normal. Others let the Bible into the picture. They believe that Tuvalu cannot be threatened by sea level rise because God promised that there would be no more floods.

How do you cope with the question of God and climate change?
At first, I didn’t know how to answer to them so I asked one of the members of TuCAN (Tuvalu Climate Action Network). He had come across this issue before and he told me that he used to explain that climate change is not from God and that these are not Gods doings, but human beings.

I also believe in the Bible and in order to explain to those that don’t believe in climate change, I use the pastor’s argument. I explain them how climate change is happening, the scientific cause behind it and then some understand.

How can Tuvalu best adapt to climate change?
We are working with the communities to make them come up with ideas. They know best what they need. We are looking at an integrated approach with health, disaster management and climate change. We assess the impact on the communities, both the slow changes and the disasters. In order to increase resilience, we gather knowledge about how they have adapted in the past and then we formulate an action plan so that we can better adapt to for example sea-level rise.

However, we also lack human resources and expertise. We need proper studies to see what is the best way to adapt. For example, we know that sea walls can help us, but also that they can impact the environment in other ways.

We are currently highlighting solutions for the different issues and making a brochure describing the different activities that the communities and the Red Cross can engage in, along with the government and other partners.

Nationally, the best way to adapt is to build sea walls to protect our shores from the waves.

What is, in your view, the biggest challenge for Tuvalu related to climate change?
Tuvalu’s biggest problem in adapting to climate change is the lack of resources. We don’t have the money to do anything for adaptation. Tuvalu is a low-lying country with a very small land area. We need help to raise our country above the sea level and to stop the destruction of the waves.

We also need to change the attitudes of the people. Tuvalu doesn’t contribute a lot to the global emissions, but anyhow we should do something to slow down the process of damage and to limit our contribution to the process. We have to support our government’s work in challenging the international arena.

We try to explain to people that even if our contribution is small and that the impact of us making zero emissions will be close to nothing on climate change if nobody else does something, we should do our best and lead the way. Then everybody can look at us and say: look they are helping themselves first.

We want to show the world that we are doing our best to be able to see the next generation live on Tuvalu. We have to show them that we, Tuvaluans can.

Personally, how do you see the future for Tuvalu?
If our government does not succeed in pushing enough in the international arena, the water will be rising and a lot more people will be affected. Climate change will change the lifestyle of Tuvaluans. The food we used to eat will not be available.

It is an option to move from Tuvalu, but I don’t think moving will solve anything. We should rather stay here and do something for the country. There are many ways to adapt to the changes, so that Tuvalu will be here forever. We should not give up.

We can do something, surely we can do something. It is only a matter of money – money that Tuvalu doesn’t have.

Florent Baarsch is a member of the international youth climate movement currently working in Tuvalu on the climate change awareness project Klima-Tuvalu

Originally published on Klima-Tuvalu