GLOBAL WARMING AND PACIFIC ISLANDS

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ADDRESS FOR SYMPOSIUM
ON
GLOBAL WARMING AND PACIFIC ISLANDS

Tokyo, Japan October 3, 1998,

By Robert Matau Assistant News Editor, Fiji Daily Post

Before I deliver my speech I would like to thank the Pacific Society for inviting me to speak on this important topic.

Most of the time we journalists are usually on the other side of the room reporting while someone else does the talking. And big vinaka vakalevu (which means thank you in Fijian) to Rieko Hayakawa and the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund for making my trip here possible. A big bula vinaka to all of you.

My name is Robert Matau and I am the Assistant News Editor of the Daily Post, which is one of the two daily newspapers in the Fiji Islands.

Today I have been asked to speak about global warming and climate change. It is something all Pacific Islanders worry about. Let me tell you a story about how the rising sea levels caused by global warming have affected me.

I had a great grandfather who I actually never met. But he was well known by his fellow kinsmen as a champion farmer and a respected figure on the island of Kadavu which lies South of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu.

Over the years his grandchildren became well established in the village, which lies on the coast beside the sea. They soon became the first people to receive an education, including my father. And I am thankful to him that I stand before you today.

But in 1992 when I wanted to return to village to pay my respects to a great man my hopes of cleaning his grave were destroyed-by the rising sea level. It was washed away into the sea which when he was buried was far away.

I stand before you today not only as a journalist who has covered the issue of global warming and the rising sea levels but as a Pacific Islander who talks from experience of the consequence of tampering with the balance of a natural ecosystem. The scenario I have painted for you today is a mild occurrence compared to the atoll states of Tuvalu and Kiribati. There, some islands have been devastated by freak tidal waves and rising sea levels.

The New York Timed reported on January 3rd last year of how a young Kiribati islander watched as the tide continued to rise abnormally above the sea level swallowing his thatched roof and other homes beside it. The reality in the Pacific is, if we do not act now we may watch as mother nature wipe out small island nations like Kiribati and Tuvalu who have already recorded large losses in land sea.

But studies have proven that this problem affects the whole world particularly in low lying areas. Countries most likely to be affected by the rising sea levels include Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Federated States of Micronesia.

Already Fiji has just scraped through one of it's worst drought. It was threatening to drag on for the whole year. There was singing and dancing in farming communities in Fiji last week as the first real drops of rain made a difference in water levels.

Now weather forecasters in Fiji are predicting that even the rain may develop into a dangerous situation. We face going from one extreme to the other from drought to floods. But I believe that the whole of the Pacific is sincerely grateful to the Government of Japan for its stance on the issue of global warming. The Pacific Islands watched with hope as the world gathered in Kyoto last year. We hoped there would be serious steps taken.

But as you know there were many compromises. The focus that Kyoto brought to the whole issue was important because unless there emissions are controlled in the next few years the consequences are too frightening to explain or speculate. We in the Pacific Islands are people of the sea. It is a fact of our daily life.

While those loopholes of rights to trade emissions have yet to be straightened out we need the continued support and commitment similar to what Japan has displayed. For global warming will affected the ability of our countries to seek marine resources for sustenance and for export.

Coastal erosion, land loss, flooding salinization, intrusion of saltwater in groundwater are other issues that will affect our islands.

The quantity and quality of available water supplies can affect agricultural activities, production, and human health. Any changes in ocean circulation and up welling could affect the fish population and catch. Tourism, a very important economic activity in the Pacific island countries could be affected through beach erosion, loss of land degraded reef ecosystems, as well as the changes in the seasonal patterns of rainfall.

A warmer earth could also lead to the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue, which already have a hold in our islands. While consultant make their thousands and academics get credited for carrying out studies and thesis on the issue, my great grandfather's grave, and many others around in our islands, have disappeared beneath the sea.

More importantly a I-Kiribati and Tuvaluan may be without a roof over his or her head. It will be replaced by the ocean surface sooner rather then later unless there is some real action taken on the recommendations and conventions ratified over this issue.

For me this issue is not a study, it is an experience which is haunting the minds of people who have never had the resources, skill or know how to appropriately tackle this problem. The decision we make tomorrow will decide what kind of a world or environment you want for your children and their children to live the future. Unless we act it won't be just my great grandfather's grave which has disappeared beneath the rising sea. It will be the village of my ancestors.

Robert Matau, Assistant News Editor, Fiji Daily Post visited Japan under the Sasakawa Pacific Islands Nations Fund Public Information-Media People Exchange Project, October 1-12, 1998. He made his presentation at a Symposium on Global Warming and Pacific Islands sponsored by the Pacific Society, on October 3, 1998, in Tokyo.

For additional information: http://www.spf.org/spinf/address.html

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