It has been a difficult five years for the people of Tukuraki. The village has faced three devastating natural disasters and suffered the loss of four of its people.
This close-knit community was forced to abandon their village, which had been in existence for generations, due to disaster. But on 26 October, 2017, smiles were found on the faces of Tukuraki’s people as a new village site officially opened. The 15-month relocation project led by the Government of Fiji and supported by the European Union, and Pacific Community, is a perfect example of how building strong and resilient communities in the Pacific makes positive impact on the lives and livelihoods of Pacific people.
The history of this project dates back to 26 January, 2012 when a landslide occurred after a week of heavy rain and flooding in the Yakete District in the highlands of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. This landslide devastated the old Tukuraki village area, killing a family including two young toddlers and destroying homes, water supply and roads.
According to George Dregasu, Senior Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Officer at the Commissioner Western’s Office, January 2012 was wetter than normal. The average rainfall for Fiji for January is 300 to 400 mm, but in 2012 the Vatukaula Weather station recorded 939mm of rain over 3 days (24 to 26 January).
Among the victims of the 2012 landslide was a young family, which included husband Anare Taligo (38 years),his wife Mereoni Robe (Mother, 23 years) and their two children Losena Nai (18 months) and Makelesi Matalau (6 months). Almost 80% of the village was also buried cutting road access, water supply, wiping out crops and infrastructure.
As one Tukuraki villager, Vilimaina Ratu, remembers it, the Commissioner Westerns Office gave villagers 8 hours to evacuate the old Tukuraki village site after the landslide, hardly enough time to prepare proper burial to the four victims.
The short notice due to the land being so unstable and at risk of another landslide forced the people of Tukuraki to disperse and temporarily settle in different locations. “The village had to split, some went down to Nukuloa and Tabataba and others went to Nanuku, which are our neighbouring villages in the greater Yakete area,” said Vilimaina.
While the Tukuraki villagers were welcomed by their new hosts, they faced discomfort especially when the shelter was someone else’s house and they were unable to return to their homes.
“We were grateful for our neighbours who took us in at that time, it was a hard time for all of us. But we knew we couldn’t depend on their kindness for too long because we were very much aware of the strain our burden put on their families. As a mother, living in temporary arrangements it was especially hard, providing the basic necessities for my kids become an impossible task because our source of income was compromised by the drought that followed the landslide” Vilimaina explained.
It was an emotional time for the Tukuraki Villagers especially for the community’s Matanivanua or village spokesperson, Livai Kidiromo, “For almost two years we lived in different locations without our extended families. As Fijians, the land is everything, it connects us to each other, when we lost that part of our community, it was a really hard time for us, we didn’t know whether we would ever get the village back again, We felt powerless”.
Category 4 – Cyclone Evan
The situation worsened for the Tukuraki villagers when Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Evan hit the Western Division less than 11 months after the landslide. Cyclone Evan directly hit Tukuraki Village where their temporary homes were damaged, infrastructure destroyed and crops lost to the devastating winds and proceeding flooding.
According to Vilimaina, after Cyclone Even some villagers attempted to return to the area taking up a space near the old village site and building temporary structures with whatever building material they could find in the Cyclones aftermath. This was not an easy choice, but the people of Tukuraki were determined to keep a home for their community.
Meanwhile, negotiations with the Yakete District, Ba Provincial Council, Commissioner Western’s Office, Ministry of iTaukei Affairs and National Disaster Management office helped to secure a new gazetted site for the community which was confirmed in November 2015. There was finally an end in sight and a real hope of seeing Tukuraki back on the Fiji map.
Category 5 – Cyclone Winston
The Tukuraki Community was again forced from their homes in February 2016 as the most severe cyclone ever to hit Fiji slammed into the country causing widespread damage and destruction again to the community. This is the moment the community again became climate change refugees.
Many left behind their temporary shelters and made their way to the nearby caves in the mountains of the Ba highlands to shelter from the 320km/h winds.
Reflecting back on that time, Vilimaina described what it was like for the villagers, “There were 5 families in the cave after Cyclone Winston and we had shortage of food as we took a limited supply when we fled the temporary village site in the initial stages of Winston’s brunt. We remained in the cave for one month.”
Photo Caption: Vilimaina Ratu, Tukuraki village member, standing in front of the cave which sheltered her and her family from the brunt of Category Five Tropical Cyclone Winston.
The storm destroyed the shelters with almost all the belongings of the villagers and wiped out the crops and vegetables, which they consumed and sold at the market as their only source of income.
After the ferocity of Cyclone Winston, the Fiji Government declared Tukuraki Village as a priority community for relocation due to the disaster impact and risk to future disasters. A new site for the community was secured in partnership with the Yavusa of Yakete, the people of Tukuraki with support by the Commissioner Western’s Office, Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, and the National Disaster Management Office.
The Mineral Resources Department then carried out soil and geographical information system mapping on the site to determine its suitability and disaster vulnerability. As it turned out, most of the soil type in the old Tukuraki Village area was of soil type E, considered unsuitable for housing so this challenge was overcome at the new village relocation site.
“This type of soil gets easily washed away with heavy rain. Even the roots of trees in the area are not deep but lie just around the surface of the soil,” Dregasu explained.
After extensive testing, a location was found in the area with the soil grade D, ideal for the village location. The new site belonged to the Mataqali Yalimara tribe, who were happy to donate their land after a comprehensive negotiation. The Pacific Community was then formally approached by government to support the rebuilding of Tukuraki Village at the new site.
A new home
In August, 2016, the Fiji National Steering Committee of the Building Safety & Resilience in the Pacific launched a project implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC), which prioritised the construction of homes at the new village site at Tukuraki in line with best practice disaster reduction strategies.
Acquiring the land was only the first hurdle. The next challenge was the shortage of building materials due to the extensive damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston in early 2016.
Mr Taito Nakalevu, project manager of the Building Safety and Resilience in the Pacific Project at SPC explained the initial plan was to complete the village in 16 weeks however, during that same time the rehabilitation work for most of Fiji’s western division was ongoing after TC Winston resulted in a scarcity of building materials.
The construction of the new village took 15 months, and the people of Tukuraki again showed their determination with many relocating to the construction site and staying in tents to prepare food and other essentials for the construction crews. This community relocation was really led by the community and Fiji Government and the outcome is a testament to their commitment.
When the project was completed, the new Tukuraki village had 11 wooden homes with kitchen, toilet and bathroom facilities. Mindful of their history, the village was provided with an evacuation centre built to category 5 standard in line with humanitarian best-practice needs. The homes were also built to category 5 cyclone standards ensuring future disaster impact can be minimised.
In addition, the community’s access road, playground, water supply to all homes, a dam for water supply and fish farming and a 345 metre retaining wall for structural integrity and concrete drainage were installed in the new community.
Additionally, due to the relocation and development of the new community the people of Tukuraki are now able to access government support services with increased access to income generation projects led by the Fiji Government and local NGO partners, a health centre based nearby along with a local primary school in walking distance to the new site.
Through the Fiji Government’s Livelihoods project, Tukuraki has been provided with a fish pond for rearing of freshwater fish, 15 bee hives for harvesting honey and a poultry shed.
Relocation – Official Opening
At the official opening of the new village Fiji’s Minister for Agriculture, Rural & Maritime Development, and National Disaster Management and High-Level Climate Champion, Inia Seruiratu, Minister Seruiratu explained to the villagers that the new Tukuraki was a model and would be discussed at the upcoming global COP23 meeting in Bonn Germany, which is co-chaired by Fiji’s Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama. “The relocation of Tukuraki will be a fine example of the type of adaptation support that should be provided to a climate change impacted community,” said Minister Seruiratu.
The Minister made particular note of how the drastic effects of the three disasters did not weaken the community. And that by choosing to work diligently with partners, such as EU and SPC, to re-build the community they have become the very symbol of Pacific Resilience.
SPC Deputy Director General Dr Audrey Aumua, Minister of Agriculture Inia Seruiratu & EU Head of Cooperation Christoph Wagner
In her opening remarks, SPC Deputy Director General Dr Audrey Aumua echoed Minister Seruiratus’ sentiments, and adds, ‘As the leading scientific and technical experts in the region, the Pacific Community are honoured to be part of this momentous occasion. As the first inland community to be relocated, we have learnt a great deal through this process. Lessons that are especially important at this time, considering many other communities are preparing to relocate from the coast because of the rising sea levels’
Livai Kididromo voices the appreciation of Tukuraki people at the official opening saying, ‘The Tukuraki community are grateful at the enormous assistance provided by EU, the Fiji Government and SPC. With the new community and the facilities provided, we feel confident in being able to withstand future disasters and more importantly confident to start a new chapter for this community.
Tukuraki’s Turaga ni Koro, Mr Simione Deruru (Village Chief), was only 20 years of age when he became the leader of his community and saw it stripped away only two years later. His presence and perseverance for his community and for the future of his young children was clear at the official opening when he remarked the new village community is making him and his family feel safe.
“It is safe because for the first time our homes are somewhere we can stay in future disasters without needing to shelter in the cave. I can confidently say this village and our homes can withstand future cyclones because we were involved in every building from the foundation up with the contractors and we know it has been built in a way to withstand future disaster and to prevent the land from shifting and the roof from being torn away. I know we are safe,” he said.
This is the reality facing many communities across both Fiji and the Pacific region but as this community remarked they are stronger than disaster and their work is a testament to this.
The Global Assessment Report for Disaster Risk Reduction compiled by the United Nations in 2015 stated Fiji is ranked 11th within the top 15 countries worldwide for the cost that cyclones cause to the countries annual average loses. Cyclone Winston cost FJD 1.99bn in damages and many communities are still rebuilding due to the extensive damage inflicted across the country by Winston.
The 2017 Cyclone season for Fiji started on the first of November.