Apr 13, 2021 Last Updated 11:41 PM, Apr 12, 2021

Climate, not God

IT did not take long for people in Fiji to point to Tropical Cyclone Winston as having some connections to a wrathful God seeking to punish people. On social media, from pulpits and in the yaqona circles the link was made between nature and the Creator.

A contributor to social media commented on pictures of a devastated village thus: “You must worship God truthfully.” Given that the village – Nayavutoka in Ra – was the home of the late radical Fijian cult leader Sairusi Naibogibogi, the contributor implied connections between the Category 5 cyclone, the Dark Arts and God. Naibogibogi ran a commune at Nayavutoka, developing it into a well maintained village with a sustainable economy despite the absence of roads and infrastructure.

His messianic leadership led followers to believe he would rise three days after death. That did not happen. But every village on the Ra coast was devastated – even their churches were lost or badly damaged. The Pacific Conference of Churches observed that similar implications were made across the region after natural disasters. General Secretary, Reverend Francois Pihaatae, said it was important for churches to focus on the root cause of disasters, in this case climate change.

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SEVERE Tropical Cyclone (STC) Winston didn’t just leave death and destruction in its wake – it also left Fiji’s economy in a shattered state. Preliminary estimates by the Fijian government placed STC Winston’s cost to Fiji at F$1 billion with damage in the agriculture sector at $120.2 million, the bulk of which accounted for damaged crops which will take months to recover.

Fiji’s second largest foreign exchange earner, the sugar industry, is estimated to have suffered damage amounting to $83 million and the final estimate is expected to be even higher when destroyed farm houses and milling facilities are properly assessed. The country’s Education sector also took a battering with damage estimated at F$45.9 million. A total of 265 schools around Fiji suffered extensive damage with 63 being completely destroyed.

At the time of our going to print, there were still over 54,000 people taking refuge in 960 evacuation centres around Fiji. STC Winston carved a path which took it through the outlying eastern islands and in between Fiji’s two largest islands, curving more inland on the coastal areas of densely populated Viti Levu’s Ra and Tailevu provinces. Unlike past cyclones, most of Fiji’s tourist-populated islands were spared STC Winston’s wrath. The tourism industry is...

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$billion damage bill in the isles

ALONG the dusty road in Fiji’s Tailevu North, sheets of mangled corrugated iron mark the path left by Tropical Cyclone Winston. Up hills and down valleys the pieces of tin – some embedded, others twisted around trees – glint in the afternoon sun that death passed this way. What remains of a lucrative pine industry is thousands of pine trees, uprooted or snapped as Winston’s deadly cloak swept over these once lush green hills.

The native forest where light once penetrated only where the road ran has been laid bare. It is a wasteland, leaves torn from branches, the undergrowth shredded, bark stripped away leaving white, naked trunks. Where once was hear the sound of crickets, birds and gently flowing streams there is silence broken only by the buzz of a chain saw or the steady beat of a hammer as people struggle to rebuild.

So far 44 people are dead and the estimated cost of repairs is over $1billion. Not a village which lay in Winston’s path was spared. In some cases not a house was left standing. “We have nothing,” said Tailevu Villager Sakeo Tuinidrano. “Our home, our clothes, our gardens – all gone. But we are luckier than the families who lost loved ones.”

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“I THINK climate change is causing this,” Sigatoka Valley grower Its 4pm daylight saving time on the so-called salad bowl of Fiji and Anand Prasad, assisted by his son is watering his watermelon plants. The large black hose he is holding creates large puddles of water on his plants.

I found him late November watering his farm along the Valley Road, some 10 km inland from the town of Sigatoka on the southern coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. “I do this every three days,” Anand tells me. “It’s been like this since May, that’s how long we haven’t had rain in this part of the country.”

In actual fact it’s hard to know that Fiji is in the middle of a prolonged drought when you visit the upper hinterlands of Sigatoka. The valley, home to many vegetable farms that supply the many resorts and hotels on Sigatoka’s Coral Coast is a sea of green. It’s helped no doubt by the winding Sigatoka River that runs across the Sigatoka Valley for miles.

But the need to irrigate the farms due to the prolonged drought meant that the cost of farming for growers like Anand had doubled or tripled in the past six months.

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SOLOMON Islanders will be feeling the worst brunt of the current El Niño period this month (December) and through to early next year. The long drought has affected the country following three months without rain from August. Despite some drizzles of hope in the capital Honiara in early November, the relief was short-lived. Solomon Islands Meteorological Services (SIMS) warned the weather was drier than normal rainfall across the country from August to October.

The current El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) will reach its peak this month (December) and slightly decrease from January 2016 on-wards, it said. Following SIMS weather outlook report, the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office issued two Situational Reports (SITREP) last month with plans of intervention in expectation for the worst. Director of NDMO Loti Yates said key government sector agencies on Agriculture, Health, Education and technical agencies like Meteorology and Hydrology together with the disaster management stakeholders have already convened series of meetings to consider the most appropriate response.

“The regional precipitation outlook for the Solomon Islands from November to January is below normal, this means that less rainfall will be experienced in this period,” Yates said.

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