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The struggle to help Carteret islanders

Monday 13 July 2015 | Published in Regional


TULUN – There are hopes people moved from Bougainville’s endangered Carteret Islands will be able to produce food to send back to those that have chosen to remain on their low lying atolls.

The Carteret islanders are the harbingers of a major shift in human population expected to take place in the coming century as millions of people are forced to migrate from low-lying coastal areas and islands.

They’re the first official refugees of global warming–and they’re packing up their lives to move out of the way of ever-rising waters that threaten to overtake their homes and crops.

But some want to stay – and those that are leaving are happy to help them do so.

For some years a non government organisation, Tulele Peisa, has been working with the Catholic Church in the autonomous Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville , to relocate people to the mainland.

Tulele Peisa’s Ursula Rakova spoke to Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific about the progress her group has been making.

Initially Tulele Peisa was an idea by the council of elders and chiefs and the community of Carterets to move the islanders to mainland Bougainville where they could be safe and where they could sustain their own livelihood.

“Safe in terms of the shoreline erosion and degradation, continuous storm surges and regular king tides, that basically wash over the island – and so when we started to get organised the elders approached the Catholic Church in Bougainville and we were given four relocation sites.

It has been a long process because basically we have been concentrating on doing food security and land use management and at the same time we are working on infrastructure where we are building homes to bring in the families so they can basically live in safe shelter where they can continue to sustain their own livelihood.

Dateline Pacific: And when we talk about food security we’re talking about the people being able to produce their own food on their land, or the land you’ve allocated to them?

“Yes, we’re talking about people being able to make their own gardens, getting the food they need to live on and at the same time creating job opportunities where they can grow their own cash crops and sell that for an income.

“And the programme also covers building homes for the families so they can live in safety.”

Dateline Pacific: We understand there are several thousand people on the Carterets? How many of them are going to move and how many have moved?

“We have a population of 2700 people on the island. The Carterets is made up of six islands and five atolls are inhabited by people. The sixth island has been divided in half and there’s only one family.

“But basically we want to move 150 families, aged between 18 to 45 years, because we believe that this is the age group which is able to work the land and produce food for themselves.”

Dateline Pacific: If you move that number of families is that everyone on the Carterets or are there going to be people still there?

“ If we move the 150 families, it’s basically the younger generation we are moving over to mainland Bougainville, the elderly people do not want to move.

“This is because of their connectedness to the island and we respect their thinking. It’s not a case where we are moving the younger people because they are not connected to the land. We are moving them because they will be able to produce food and send it back to the island to help the elderly people who are back on the island.”

Dateline Pacific: In terms of numbers then, we’re talking about how many remaing on the islands?

“We are looking at 150 families, we are looking at 1700 people because there will also be other young people who may not want to move who will be basically looking after their old people and that’s something we want to maintain as well.

“At this point in time we have moved eight families to the mainland, we have two more families to move soon – we have at the moment 101 people in our new community.”

Dateline Pacific: And you’re looking there to develop businesses that they can get involved in terms of farming?

“We’ve basically concentrated our efforts on agriculture as well as building resilience. We have many forest projects as well as a research project and we have rehabilitated each of the families with cocoa and coconut plants.

“We’re beginning to sell cocoa beans to the neighbouring villages, to the host community and we are making a little cash from the sale of these beans.”

Dateline Pacific: What’s the relationship like with the surrounding community? Are you getting on? Because there have been issues at times, haven’t there?

“Our relationship and partnership with the host community has been quite healthy at this stage, in the sense that we have built the programme to also cover the host community.

“One of the examples I can give at this stage is the contribution with the four-in-one classroom, meaning that this classroom will have a ground floor and another floor upstairs where it will contain four different classrooms, and this is our contribution to the host community, to the primary school that we send our students to.

“And in this way we also want to make sure that the support coming to us is also reaching the host community where relationships and ownership of our relocation programme will also come from the host community.

“Additionally, we are taking part in a lot of the cultural ceremonies and social events being done by the host community, especially in terms of marriage ceremonies, mourning ceremonies of the host communities which our community has taken part in.”