The Ambassador of the European Union in Fiji and the Pacific, H.E. Mr Sujiro Seam;
Na Vanua Vakaturaga o Koroi-Vabea;
Marama na Tui Ono;
Vanua Vakaturaga o Raviravi,
Marama na Tui Raviravi;
Turaga na iTalatala;
Government Officials;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and good afternoon to you all.

It seems a very short time ago that I had a Talanoa with you, the people of Narikoso, and listened to your experiences with the rising sea that was threatening to swallow your village. Now we have relocated the seven most vulnerable houses, and we can celebrate the new Narikoso, in which all residents are safe from the rising Pacific

Narikoso is one of 48 villages that we know must be relocated fully or in part. Each one has a different story and faces its own unique challenges, yet they are all joined together in solidarity. There is great solidarity among people who face the same challenge, even if they have never met. You know the sorrow, the uncertainty and the fear for the future that your fellow Fijians feel, and they know yours.

But you have also felt hope and determination, and now the joy of being able to restart your lives without fear that your future will be taken from you.

Narikoso is the seventh village we have relocated, and every successful relocation gives hope and encouragement to the remaining villages. They know it can be done and that life will continue as happily and productively as before—that their village, too, will be able to make plans for ten or twenty years in the future.

We also know that a village is not just a collection of bures, houses and community structures. The people make the village, and the people work hard every day to provide for their families and improve their community.

A village must have an economic heartbeat. It must have a way to generate income, and it must have prospects for growth. It would do little good to relocate a village, or part of a village, and not also attempt to inject some hope for a better future.

It is Government’s job to support the efforts of the people in this village and others to have a better life today, to look to a more prosperous future, and to contribute to the economy of the country. A relocation project is not just a response to sea-level rise. It also can be an opportunity to develop sustainable, community-based projects in rural areas that can generate income.

We have done that here through the Integrated Human Resource Development Programme (IHRDP), which is administered by the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport. It’s a holistic and integrated approach to unemployment and economic development that supports the energies and initiative of the people, and it is done with support of the private sector and civil society.

Here in Narikoso, that means support for the Matanarua Co-operative totaling some $27,000. Pacific Feed provided 200 laying hens and 100 chickens for meat, plus feed and feeding equipment. Brij Lal contributed a 1,000-litre cooler and a 500-litre freezer.  ASCO Motors contributed a generator and an outboard engine. Commercial honey pitched in with bee hives, bees and training in beekeeping.

And Total contributed fuel. It is a marvelous example of Government and the private sector working together to support sustainable small business. The rest is in the hands of the people of Narikoso Village and the Matanarua Co-operative—and those are very capable and industrious hands, indeed.

We say that in Fiji, when we build back, we build back better. It is not enough to simply move a village. We know that we will face more severe storms, and more frequent storms, in the future. So we must build stronger village. The new structures in Narikoso are built to withstand a category-4 storm. We pray that your homes will never be called on to resist those kinds of winds. But if those winds come, these houses will remain standing. In the sunlight of the next day, your village will be here, just as it was.

But it also means we build back better with an integrated approach to economic development. When we relocate a village—or part of a village—we want that village to thrive in the future, not merely to exist as a dot on a map. The people will always be here in Narikoso. But when they gaze across their village, they must not only see a village; they must see a better future.

It has taken four years to complete this project, and in those four years we have endured Tropical Cyclone Winston and Tropical Cyclone Harold. We had to stop work for a time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we persevered. Fijians always persevere. We are a people who have lived in harmony with nature, and we know how to adapt when nature changes our environment.

At the Government level, we will continue the fight internationally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop the rate of global warming. But at the local level, we must look to the lives and livelihoods of our people. And that means we must adapt to reality.

I wish to thank the Government of the European Union for fully funding this project and the German Agency for International Co-operation and Development, our implementation partner. I also wish to acknowledge the presence of the Ambassador of the European Union, His Excellency Mr Sujiro Seam.  We urgently need the support of the world’s most advanced economies if we are to succeed in the massive work that lies ahead of us to adapt to climate change.

We have villages to move, infrastructure to strengthen and buildings to upgrade on a scale we could not have contemplated twenty or even ten years ago. We will do all we can to protect our Fiji and our people, but we cannot do that work alone.

The most important thing is that your Government will do everything possible to make sure that you can continue living here, in the home of your ancestors. We may have to concede a few hundred meters to the rising sea, just to be safe. But we will not allow our people to be driven from their homes. We will stay here, in the land that was given to us by the generations that came before us.

Vinaka  Vakalevu – Thank you.

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