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Stay or flee? Fijians forced to abandon disappearing homes

STORY: The village elders of Fiji’s Serua Island always thought they would be buried here, alongside the chiefs. That was before the impacts of climate change. Now, at high tide, the rising Pacific Ocean breaches the seawall and floods the village, saltwater inundating gardens. The community is running out of ways to adapt and now faces the same painful decision as many other coastal villages here. Stay or relocate to Fiji’s main island, to secure a future for the next generation.[Semisi Madanawa, Serua village resident]”I’m going to miss everything that’s surrounding this island. The trees, everything. The atmosphere. But we need to do something” Resident Semisi Madanawa says the 80 villagers must move given the flooding, erosion and exposure to extreme weather.[Semisi Madanawa, Serua village resident]”The water comes in and we are talking about, discussing among ourselves to like relocate or get land reclamation done in the island, and building a sea wall.” This is one community that has successfully relocated from their old village of Vunidogoloa in 2014. That move made Fiji the first Pacific island nation to relocate a community because of rising sea levels.[Sailosi Ramatu / Former headman / Vunidogoloa village]”Yes, to relocate, it was a success for my community.” Sailosi Ramatu was village headman at the time of the move in 2014. He and the villagers had invited officials to see how they lived with water up to their knees. Ramatu says saltwater had destroyed the ability of the 150 residents to grow crops, but that it still took time to persuade the elders to move. He and many others still visit the old village almost daily to reconnect with their past and feel the presence of their families and former chiefs who remain buried here.[Sailosi Ramatu / Former headman / Vunidogoloa village]”We miss this community so much, you know. Because we learned many things about custom, tradition, the way of life here as we are Fijian. How we lived through the soil, how we lived through the land we live, and our culture , we understand as we were taught from our parents. We left our grandparents and parents behind. We left our big houses behind. We left the sea.” Many Fijians say they want developed nations that contributed the most to global warming, not only curb their emissions but pay for the steps islanders are having to take. Six Fiji villages have moved or plan to with government support, and a new process to prioritize the most urgent relocations is still under development.” We want to see if the world can work together, the leaders of the world can work together, if the aim is to combat the impacts of climate change, you know, to make a decision.” Madanawa is unsure when it will be feasible for his village to relocate, due to funding and the hesitation of many village elders to leave their homes, but he knows change has to happen.[Semisi Madanawa, Serua village resident]”It takes time, it takes time for an idea to settle in the hearts of us human beings, so that we can accept the changes that are coming, yeah.”