Fiji is one such nation grappling with these issues. Underneath the surface, many communities face challenges to their way of life which underpins the identity holding people together. Climate change is increasing cyclones and floods, leading to losses of settlements and livelihoods, and a trauma among affected communities.
In rural Fiji we have been working with Transcend Oceania - a Pacific-based partner organisation committed to peace, justice and development. They are working with communities to identify their unique set of climate change-related challenges and find solutions to addressing them.
A changing environment
Environmental change is forcing communities to relocate to other areas, which is causing a range of challenges. One community has already had to relocate due to rising sea levels. Transcend Oceania has been creating space to identify the cause of conflicts arising in the new settlement. Through Talanoa, which is an indigenous Fijian method of dialogue, they found solutions including reexamining governance and leadership arrangements. They were also able to recognise the trauma which accompanied relocation, and how this affected different groups, especially women.
“We lived with my elderly in-law who refused to leave… he kept on telling us - let the others leave, we'll stay here where my elders and our foundations are.” - Community member
Elsewhere, Transcend Oceania is working to address a complex land dispute caused by the potential resettlement of climate change migrants. The land in question is used for subsistence farming and has been sold from under the feet of those who have lived and worked on that land for a century. Transcend Oceania has been speaking with different parties to the conflict, while helping the communities to navigate immediate issues.
Dealing with extreme weather
When cyclones hit in late 2019 and early 2020, several communities were hit hard. After speaking with community members about their needs, Transcend Oceania ran a Trauma Informed Preparedness and Resilience activity. This is a form of psycho-social support which can help to retain and build resilience after sudden climate events and is essential to ongoing conflict prevention within communities.
Disasters bring a range of painful experiences related to loss of loved ones and belongings, plus trigger trauma from previous cyclones and uncover pressures and tensions within existing relationships. The activities focused on helping communities to understand how traumatic events affect individuals, different groups, and the community as a whole. This helped people to talk about their own understandings of trauma, observations of psychological impact and how this may link to cycles of violence, in a safe, shared space.
“This process has helped me to build courage and not be afraid to share my sensitive stories, because if I didn’t and if you don’t, it can put you in a place you wouldn’t imagine, just like what happened to me… [this activity] has helped me find the real reasons as to why my behaviour, thinking and attitude had changed.” – Community member
Overall, the greatest impact has been working with communities to change the conversation about climate change in rural Fiji. Instead of treating communities as victims of rising sea levels, increased occurrences of sudden disasters, and loss of ancestral homes, we and our partners are enabling communities to be part of their own change through an array of responses.
Access to land and natural resources has long contributed to conflict, but our natural environment is changing at a rate never seen before in human history. We work in partnership with local people and communities to develop conflict-sensitive responses to environmental change.