Part 6: Let’s start a sustainable future now

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Teas­er:

In the last part of our Coro­na Inter­view Series we speak to two cli­mate activists from the Small Island State Fiji, which is espe­cial­ly exposed to the con­se­quences of cli­mate change. Lave­tanala­gi Seru and Komal Narayan are both active mem­bers of the Alliance for Future Gen­er­a­tions and are work­ing towards a live­able future in Fiji — now as well as in the future.

Komal Narayan, cli­mate activist from Fiji works for the Alliance for Future Gen­er­a­tions — Fiji.
Lave­tanala­gi Seru (28) is active­ly engaged in work­ing for a peace­ful and sus­tain­able future — as Coor­di­na­tor of the Alliance for Future Gen­er­a­tions – Fiji and as Pro­gramme Offi­cer of the Rain­bow Pride Foundation.

A.     Sit­u­a­tion before Corona

Kli­madel­e­ga­tion e.V.What was the sit­u­a­tion in your country/region like before the Coro­na pandemic?

Komal Narayan: Fiji is a devel­op­ing coun­try but also the hub of the Pacif­ic being the most devel­oped com­pared to oth­er Pacif­ic Island Coun­tries ( leav­ing out Aus­tralia and New Zealand of course). Gen­er­al­ly, our health­care sys­tem often faces tur­moil as we lack resources and capac­i­ty to be able to achieve top qual­i­ty health care ser­vices. The gov­ern­ment health ser­vices are lim­it­ed and often time con­sum­ing while pri­vate health care is cost­ly. Our infra­struc­ture is devel­oped to some extent and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble by its peo­ple, most­ly for those liv­ing in the urban areas. Fiji’s econ­o­my has been pro­gress­ing well for the past few years with Cyclone Win­ston as a major set back that great­ly affect­ed our econ­o­my and many were slow­ly recov­er­ing from it since 2016. In terms of cli­mate change, Fiji has been ahead and we have had poli­cies being imple­ment­ed such as the Planned Relo­ca­tion Guide­lines of Fiji, Dis­place­ment Trust Fund, con­sul­ta­tions for the Nation­al Ocean Pol­i­cy and the upcom­ing cli­mate change act. We have had com­mu­ni­ties being relo­cat­ed to cope with the impacts of cli­mate change and the coun­try is invest­ing slow­ly in cli­mate adap­ta­tion options. The impacts of cli­mate change is quite evi­dent with high inten­si­ty cyclones affect­ing Fiji and the Pacif­ic and ris­ing sea-lev­els. For instance, the lat­est trop­i­cal cyclone Harold once again great­ly affect­ed the Fijian econ­o­my in terms of agri­cul­ture and in turn has impacts on the economy.

Lave­tanala­gi Seru: Was den Kli­mawan­del bet­rifft, so haben die Gemein­den hier auf den Fid­schi-Inseln bere­its die Auswirkun­gen des Kli­mawan­dels und des Anstiegs des Meer­esspiegels zu spüren bekom­men. Viele der Gemein­den ver­suchen, einige dieser Auswirkun­gen abzuschwächen oder sich an die Verän­derun­gen anzupassen. 

Kli­madel­e­ga­tion e.V.:  How was the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion before the pandemic?

Lave­tanala­gi Seru: In terms of the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, we have a gov­ern­ment, which is led by the cur­rent major­i­ty, the Fiji First Par­ty. When it comes to cli­mate change it is very impor­tant to under­stand the his­to­ry of Fiji. Fiji is one of the col­o­nized Pacif­ic coun­tries, col­o­nized by the British. The British brought in inden­tured labor­ers from India to work on the sug­ar cane fields. Lat­er, when the Indi­ans were freed, some of them stayed and some of them went back to India. Now, we have almost half of the pop­u­la­tion who are of Indi­an descent. We have had four Coups: there were two mil­i­tary coups in 1987, there was a civ­il coup that was led by the peo­ple in 2000 and there was anoth­er mil­i­tary coup in 2006. And many of those, who were lead­ing the coup of 2006, are now part of the country’s polit­i­cal lead­er­ship. All of those coups were car­ried out for one major rea­son: the grow­ing eth­ni­cal and racial divi­sion. The Indi­ans were seen as a threat by the indige­nous peo­ple. It is real­ly impor­tant to talk about this. Because in the con­text of cli­mate change, one thing we will expe­ri­ence in the Pacif­ic is not only the mas­sive inter­nal dis­place­ment but also migrants who have to move away from their own island coun­tries in the Pacif­ic e.g. the Mar­shall Islands, Tuvalu or Kiri­bati to Fiji, because their islands are going down under­wa­ter. This is impor­tant to under­stand, because in Fiji there is already racial and eth­ni­cal divi­sion between the peo­ple. If we see a con­tin­u­ance of peo­ple hav­ing to move to Fiji, what does it mean? Talk­ing about xeno­pho­bia, and dis­crim­i­na­tion against migrants etc. And we have already seen four coups as a result of that, so what does it look like in the future for us here in Fiji? We could poten­tial­ly face greater civ­il unrest for instance.

B.     Sit­u­a­tion dur­ing Corona

Kli­madel­e­ga­tion e.V.: How did Coro­na affect you and your country?

 Komal Narayan: In my case, coro­na did not impact my fam­i­ly as we all have jobs where we could con­tin­ue to work from home. The major impli­ca­tion and dif­fi­cul­ty was dur­ing the two week lock down peri­od to jug­gle fam­i­ly, per­son­al time and work hours all at once. This to some extent made me more active and helped me plan my time well and also focus on things like read­ing and med­i­ta­tion. How­ev­er, many of the fam­i­lies who had jobs in the tourism sec­tor, which has been great­ly affect­ed are strug­gling to make ends meet for their fam­i­ly. Many are now opt­ing for back­yard gar­den­ing for sub­sis­tence liveli­hood and using inno­va­tion and skills to start up their own small scale busi­ness­es to help them earn a living. 

Lave­tanala­gi Seru: I guess for many young peo­ple, as COVID-19 hap­pened and the coun­try went into lock­down mode in the ear­ly days, it was clear that they will lose their jobs in the ser­vice and tourism indus­try. The tourism indus­try is the major con­trib­u­tor to the GDP in Fiji. All the hotels had to close, there were no flights. Many weren’t able to pay their rent, so they had to move back to their fam­i­lies. Many did­n’t have any sup­port sys­tem to help them. 

But there were not only eco­nom­i­cal but also many social issues. A lot of dis­crim­i­na­tion, espe­cial­ly towards the LGBTQI+ com­mu­ni­ty. They were being blamed. There were many reli­gious nar­ra­tives and all those mis­con­cep­tions were circulating. 

We also saw a food secu­ri­ty cri­sis dur­ing the peri­od. The price of fresh and nutri­tious food and veg­eta­bles in the mar­ket real­ly sky­rock­et­ed. In the com­mu­ni­ties, the fact that we had lock-down and peo­ple were unable to go out and fish at cer­tain hours caused many chal­lenges. Already before COVID-19, there were cas­es of coral die-offs and acid­i­fi­ca­tion. The fish­es are begin­ning to migrate to oth­er waters, so peo­ple have to go out fish­ing longer, because they are not get­ting much catch. Dur­ing COVID-19, if they don’t get the catch and return back ear­ly so as to not get in the way of the cur­few, they are almost emp­ty-hand­ed or with less catch for the day. 

For now, we don’t have any COVID-19 cas­es. We are try­ing to bounce back. Sev­er­al hotels with­in the tourism indus­tries are now open; we have some flights now. But, I guess, it is the new nor­mal. We still have cur­few from 11 pm to 4 am in the morn­ing. Many peo­ple have lost their job per­ma­nent­ly. Some are com­ing back to work with either reduced hours or reduced pay. 

A school of fish in pacif­ic waters. Due to cli­mate change and coral die-offs fish around Fiji are begin­ning to migrate to oth­er waters.

C.     Lessons from Coro­na – Mes­sages for the Future

Kli­madel­e­ga­tion e.V.:   What lessons should we learn from the Coro­na Cri­sis for fight­ing the Cli­mate Cri­sis (col­lec­tive­ly and individually)?

Komal Narayan: The biggest les­son for us all is that if we can curb car­bon emis­sions and reduce pol­lu­tion by min­i­miz­ing our move­ments and have a sus­tain­able liv­ing because of one pan­dem­ic. Then we can sure­ly make this a habit­u­al prac­tice for a sus­tain­able future for our plan­et. We have learnt that some of our dai­ly habits can be for­gone to ensure our car­bon foot­prints are min­i­mized and of course using inno­va­tion and sus­tain­able tech­nol­o­gy to form alter­na­tives to some of our dai­ly actions. I´m won­der­ing, if one pan­dem­ic can make us all work togeth­er, then what is stop­ping us from com­ing to a com­mon ground when talk­ing about the cli­mate cri­sis or future issues caused by this cri­sis? I am hop­ing for a future where lead­ers and youth alike work togeth­er with com­mon goals for the bet­ter­ment of our plan­et and not work­ing for eco­nom­ic or mon­e­tary ben­e­fits only. This is just one pan­dem­ic we are fac­ing that has cre­at­ed hav­oc around the world and made us re-adjust our lives, but what about the future cri­sis that is yet to come? How will this impact us and our liveli­hoods? I feel that if we are not able to work togeth­er as one then we will nev­er be able to find solu­tions to the greater prob­lems at hand.

Dur­ing the Coro­na-Pan­dem­ic peo­ple were start­ing to plant food in their back­yards. The Alliance for Future Gen­er­a­tions — Fiji dis­trib­uted seedlings and orga­nized webi­na­rs on gardening.

Lave­tanala­gi Seru: Peo­ple are learn­ing to and try­ing to become resilient. And I guess peo­ple in the Pacif­ic have always been resilient peo­ple but this is kind of new. It is an unprece­dent­ed chal­lenge dur­ing this time of great progress and tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment and that has made peo­ple real­ize that there is a greater depen­den­cy on the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment. When there was the food secu­ri­ty cri­sis there were many pro­grams hap­pen­ing around the pro­vi­sion of seedlings and peo­ple were going back to do farm­ing and back­yard gar­den­ing. With the Alliance for Future Gen­er­a­tions – Fiji and the local NGO FRIEND Fiji we did an online train­ing for back­yard gar­den­ing, and we dis­trib­uted seedlings so young peo­ple can plant. 

I guess, peo­ple are start­ing to real­ize that our indige­nous way of liv­ing has been sus­tain­able for many years. The cur­rent way of life, the unsus­tain­able con­sump­tion pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion pat­terns in the last 50–100 years are unsus­tain­able and not healthy for the plan­et. The plan­et becomes sick – and then we have to real­ly learn the hard way. Peo­ple are resort­ing to age old strate­gies and rely­ing on tra­di­tion­al and indige­nous wis­dom for resilience. This feeds into the greater scheme around mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion. How peo­ple can be resilient not only to COVID-19, but also to the pend­ing cli­mate cri­sis, which is sort of the big­ger war. Cli­mate change is the big­ger war we have to fight in order to live in a safe, sus­tain­able and hab­it­able future. Not only for us but also for the future generations. 

COVID-19 has also allowed peo­ple to rethink and re-imag­ine their lifestyle in terms of mis­use of nature, mis­use of resources and to man­age this lim­it­ed and finite resources that we have. We can­not always take it for grant­ed. This has been a sort of awak­en­ing for peo­ple around life-style. 

Dur­ing COVID-19 we from the Alliance for Future Gen­er­a­tions also acknowl­edged that the men­tal health is very impor­tant. We gave men­tal health webi­na­rs in part­ner­ship with the Samoa Vic­tims Sup­port Group Juniors from Samoa, where we talked about cop­ing strate­gies and young peo­ple were able to be part of peer-to-peer groups dur­ing the chal­leng­ing times. This is very impor­tant for resilience – not only to Covid-19 but also to cli­mate change.

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