Tag: Climate

Honiara Central Market

Climate Change – Unforeseen Effects on Diet and Health

The impacts of climate change can be surprisingly far reaching, affecting families in unexpected and complex ways. Here, Tagolyn Kabekabe, the Anglican Alliance’s Pacific facilitator, talks about some of these impacts in the Solomon Islands, describing a chain of consequences that include a change in the types of diseases affecting communities.

The whole of the Pacific is affected by rising sea levels but it is worst for the low-lying islands. We have had instances when a spring tide has washed through the islands taking everything with it: the chickens, the pigs; it washes through the kitchen taking the pots, the pans; everything into the sea. These are phenomena that people are now experiencing, which they say never happened in the past. They used to have high tides, but they know it was only half a metre – but that has changed so much in the last 15 years.

Walande Island

When we have this rising sea level and unusual high tides and things like that, it actually destroys whatever crop is grown not necessarily just along the beach or coastline, but it also affects inland. A lot of people plant swamp taro and this needs a certain salinity to be able to grow well and produce tubers. But when you have extra salt it disturbs the level of salinity-it becomes too salty and it affects the crop. It rots the tubers and in the long run it kills off everything. This affects not only the current harvest but also the ability of people to replant the following season. Too much salt in the soil also affects the growing of bananas, bread fruit, even coconuts. A certain level of salt is suitable for these plants but too much kills them.

Our rainfall patterns have changed too, in two major ways: one is that we don’t get the rains when we expect them and the second is that when we get the rain it is too much-or maybe too little. The unusual rain pattern also affects crops. Too much rainwater disturbs the balance. So it is both ways, and these are things our people have no control over. We cannot control sea level rise and we cannot control how much rain falls onto the crops. Our people cannot protect themselves from these things and so the people simply go with what happens.

Honiara Central Market

Swamp taro is the staple food of these islanders. As swamp taro has declined due to increasing soil salinity the diet of the community has changed drastically. People start to depend on imported foods such as rice, flour, noodles, sugar, tea, and canned meat and fish. And for these, people are dependent on supply boats. There is a time known as the time of ‘hunger’ when the boats that bring the imported foods, medicines, etc, do not follow the monthly schedules and this is a very common occurrence, especially when it is not bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) season. People then, for a month or more, eat only fish and coconuts, which greatly affects their wellbeing especially young children. Malnutrition then becomes an ever-increasing issue among children, and under-nutrition among adults.

The change from a very traditional concentrated and nutritious diet to a foreign and less nutritious one has resulted in many problems for the islanders. Traditionally, our people are very healthy but now we are seeing increased levels of obesity and non-communicable diseases. There is an increase in diabetes and high blood pressure, diseases that we did not know of in the past. These problems are further compounded by the lack of basic medicines, diagnostic equipment, technicians and qualified medical staff in rural areas, resulting in patients not knowing their statuses and so succumbing to disease. The fact that rural health facilities lack trained nurses means referrals of patients is virtually non-existent and many people do not have the money to pay for the boat fares to Honiara because of their limited resources. In these situations, people die of treatable diseases in the islands.

The forced change in diet affects families in other ways too. For our very rural people who are subsistence farmers and who live off the land, it is a struggle to be able to buy the rice, which means that what little crops they have, they have to sell or, if they have children who are working in towns and cities, they depend on them. That is one of the patterns we are now experiencing-that our families who live in the villages now depend on the children who are working and earning money to actually supply the rice for them. And this puts a strain on our community.

Tagolyn Kabekabe, tagolyn.kabekabe@anglicancommunion.org

Church Observatory

News from the ACoM Environment Observatory

Communities in Solomon Islands have been identified to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and associated sea-level rise. Some evidence of these impacts is already visible. For example, the artificial island of Walande, located off the coast of South Malaita, has been submerged by rising sea-levels in recent years and the community has been faced with relocation onto the nearby mainland. Low-lying coastal communities across the country are threatened by similar scenarios. Scientific data is urgently needed to understand the environmental changes that communities are facing in the Solomon Islands today and in the future. The Anglican Church of Melanesia Environment Observatory aims to create an extensive database of environmental change across the country, based on local observations of Anglican communities, which will increase local understanding of climate-related issues and build resilience in vulnerable communities.

Selwyn College students boarding an outboard motor canoe
Selwyn College students boarding an outboard motor canoe – evacuated by ship to Honiara during the flash floods earlier this year. Photo by Fr. Losdale Rubaha

At present, the ACoM Environment Observatory consists of four different monitoring test sites, located at Fanalei Island, Walande, Selwyn College and Red Beach, Honiara. These test sites are coordinated by trained representatives of the respective communities, the “Green Apostles”. At the test sites, continuous data on temperature, rainfall, water levels and shoreline change are collected. The observatory project is managed by a local ACoM staff member, Freda Fataka, and supported by a team of international scientists, including Dr Adam Bobbette (University of New South Wales) and Marie Schlenker (University of Southampton).

The first 6-months of environmental data has been successfully collected at the test sites and has been shared with the research team for analysis. While it is too early to see any trends in the data, it has been a great opportunity to review the set up and organisation of the observatory. In February, Selwyn College was flooded and evacuated; in March, the Solomon Islands Government declared a State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic; in April, Cyclone Harold caused widespread destruction in the Pacific and affected the test sites at Selwyn College, Red Beach, and Fanalei. The observatory has been through some extremely testing situations this year. The good news: while there have been temporary disruptions to the data collection and some adjustments needed to be made to the measurement structures, data collection in the ACoM Environment Observatory continues and the spirits of all participating people are high. Freda highlighted that her visits to the test sites showed that Green Apostles and community members “were committed faithfully and put all their efforts towards the success of the project”. We look forward to continuing to work on this exciting project.

Freda & Marie

Bishop of DOVNC, the Rt Rev James Tama, with Vanuatu Disaster Relief Team

ACoM Vanuatu Disaster Team Visits Pentecost

A six-member team from the ACoM Office in Vanuatu and Diocese of Vanuatu & New Caledonia (DOVNC) are currently in Pentecost following reports received from the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Harold in April 2020.

Team Leader Fr. Benjamin Tosiro said: “During the visit, the team will be running training to equip Clergy, ACoM School Principals and their councils on various important topics to equip members of the Church during times of any disaster.

“COVID-19 hand washing awareness and distribution of relief supplies will also be carried out. Relief supplies include food, gardening tools, handwashing facilities for Churches, and Spiritual encouragement booklets for parishes,” Fr. Tosiro said.

“The ACoM Education officer who is part of the team will be accessing ACoM schools affected by the cyclone on the island,” he continued.

“Clergymen from four regions on Pentecost, including the Mothers’ Union Leaders, Youth Leaders, Sunday School Leaders and chairmen of the parishes will also be involved in this training.”

The team arrived in Pentecost on 24th June will be there until 8th July 2020.

Information and Photo by John Siba, ACOM Vanuatu.

Emergency Appeal - Disaster Relief - Vanuatu

The Right Revd Dr Keith Joseph, Bishop of North Queensland

More Flooding At Selwyn College

Last month Selwyn College was flooded, and the school had to be evacuated and closed. The Right Revd Dr Keith Joseph, Bishop of North Queensland, looks back on his experience of flooding on Guadalcanal.

“I was a lecturer at Bishop Patteson Theological College in February 2009 when the first big floods to hit North-West Guadalcanal happened. Selwyn College was flooded, all the food garden around the college were flooded, but the floods were more widespread across all of the area from Selwyn College back towards Honiara. About 10,000 people lost their food gardens, sources of fresh water were polluted for months, homes and villages destroyed. At least twenty people drowned.

The heavy rains were not particularly new, though with Climate Change there might be more periods of sustained heavy rain than before. But in this case the new factor was deforestation. Before, when there were heavy rains, the forests on top of the hills and mountains held the water and released it gradually. But without the forests the rain just ran off the soil immediately and there was “flash flooding”. Since 2009 there has been more deforestation and more flooding.

The cause of deforestation and the cause of climate change are the same: human greed which sees the environment as something to be used and abused without consequences. The cash stays with the big men but does not get to the people who need it – but they are the ones who suffer the consequences of deforestation and climate change. The Churches must take a prophetic role: they must tell out that this abuse of the environment is ungodly and goes against the Bible. In Genesis 1.26 we humans are given “dominion” over creation – but this is never ownership. God owns creation. We are simply his stewards, entrusted with his creation for our use and that of our children and grandchildren, remembering that in the end we all will return to him. In the Old Testament the people of God are told to look after the land, to give it sabbath – and then condemned for not doing so (2 Chronicles 36.21). Like the prophets of old we are called to proclaim God’s justice against those who spoil his creation.”

+ Keith

The Right Revd Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland

Litany of Environmental Lament Header

Litany of Environmental Lament and Repentance From Melanesia

Minister General for the Society of St Francis Br Christopher John, was recently asked by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network to ask Franciscans in Melanesia to write a litany of environmental repentance. Br Chris expanded the brief and held a short workshop for all four of the Orders in Melanesia to write the piece for Ash Wednesday. The below is taken from the original, Litany of Environmental Lament and Repentance From Melanesia, and is free for further distribution.

God of the whole human race.
You have given us responsibility to care for each other. But we have exploited and hated each other by our wickedness.
We turn to you in sorrow and repentance.
Please help us to look to you and care for each other.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

O God of creation.
You have created land for us to make our gardens and for trees, animals and all living creatures on the earth.
Forgive us for our destruction of the land by logging and poisonous chemicals.
We turn to you in sorrow and repentance.

Help us O Lord to care for the land that you have given us.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

God of the universe, the ocean and of love.
You have given us the ocean for fish, shells, reefs, whales, waves, corals, and for ships and boats.

We have destroyed the ocean and everything in it, and not cared for it.
We turn to you in sorrow and repentance.
Please help us to care for the ocean, and to recognise that it is your blessing for us.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

God of the forest, in which all living things survive and engage their life and move peacefully.
You have given us wisdom, knowledge and understanding to use our resources well in a manageable manner.

We have been careless, short-sighted, and selfish and failed to share with other people throughout the world.

We turn to you in sorrow and repentance.
Please help us to think positively of your goodness and loving kindness. Please help us  to see the needs of others as you have Litany of Environmental Lament and Repentance From Melanesia seen us living in your beautiful forest.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

God of the universe, the God who created the atmosphere. By your power of creation you made the sky so beautiful, the sun to give us light during the day and the moon and the stars to give light during the night. You have given us clouds to bring rain and give life to your creatures.

Lord, we turn to you with a penitent heart for all the destructions we have caused to the atmosphere.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Merciful God, God of love and everything in this world. You have created the rain, winds, storms, cyclones, earthquakes, volcanoes and floods to renew your creation. Help us to understand their existence in your world.

We turn to you in sorrow and repentance. Please, Father, forgive us for the human activities which have overpowered the weather and caused destruction of our environment.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

God you are our creator, the source of all wisdom and power. You have created humans and animals and you have appointed us humans to be responsible for them.

Forgive us who destroy your creatures. We turn to you in sorrow and repentance. Help us Lord to love and to care for them as you care for us.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

Written by members of the four Religious Orders in the Anglican Church of Melanesia.
Melanesian Brotherhood, Society of St Francis, Community of the Sisters of the Church, Community of the Sisters of Melanesia.

The Anglican Church of Melanesia includes 9 dioceses in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It is one of the areas of the world most vulnerable to climate change  due to sea level rise

To find out more about the impacts of climate change
https://abcnews.go.com/International/solomon-islands-disappear-pacific-ocean-result-climate-change/story?id=38985469

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Green Apostle Training

The Anglican Church of Melanesia and Climate Change

Climate change and the future
The Anglican Church of Melanesia [ACoM] considers climate change one of the most significant environmental and social issues facing its community. With more than 100 years in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, ACoM understands that it can play a crucial role in solving future challenges. To do so, we need bold, innovative steps.

The remains of Fanalei Island
The remains of Fanalei Island

Sea level rise, increased severity of storms and flooding, droughts, saltwater intrusion into freshwater agriculture, and reef habitat loss, all threaten to destabilise local communities. Knock-on social consequences could result in ethnic conflicts, land disputes, and internally displaced peoples. Latent social tensions may be exacerbated if adequate preparations are not undertaken.

One challenge is a lack of accurate local data and environmental monitoring. The Solomon Islands Government does not have sufficient infrastructure or systems to monitor ongoing environmental change. International monitoring is focused on the wider Pacific region. Fisheries, forests, extreme weather events, and shoreline changes, are not sufficiently studied. The reality is stark: without monitoring we cannot know local conditions. We therefore cannot develop evidence-based mitigation plans.

The Anglican Church of Melanesia considers this an opportunity. We can contribute to sustaining local communities and supporting the people of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. We are undertaking the following initiatives.

The ACoM Environment Observatory
The creation of the Anglican Church of Melanesia Environment Observatory is forging new alliances between the environmental sciences and the Anglican Church of Melanesia. It aims to solve the dearth of local environmental monitoring. With a majority Anglican population, we are using churches throughout the archipelago as a network of scientific observatories. Installing monitoring equipment operated by clergy and lay people, churches are beginning to measure shoreline change, rain fall, storm intensity and duration. Daily readings are sent at regular intervals to ACoM headquarters, Honiara, where they will form the basis for scientific analysis.

In our first year of implementation we established three observatories on three islands. Students and faculty from the Solomon’s Island University are undertaking shoreline measurements on Guadalcanal north shore.

In the coming years, we will expand stations to all islands with ACoM churches and integrate observing with clerical duties. This will produce a close-range portrait of environmental change and the basis for accurate mitigation strategies. Data will be in the public domain and a valuable resource to local and international climate change scientists. Rather than import costly monitoring equipment and expertise from abroad, the observatory repurposes existing church infrastructure and expertise.

This innovative approach is appealing to churches in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. Anglican and other Christian communities in Australia, Vanuatu, Samoa, and the UK, are developing partnerships to extend the observatory network. Post-graduate architectural design courses on the observatory are being development with the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology, Sydney; and, the School of Design, Harvard University. The observatory is being studied as case study of the integration of science and religion in courses at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, and Malua Theological College, Apia Samoa.

Green Apostles
To link environmental sciences with the Anglican Church of Melanesia community we have developed the Green Apostle award in collaboration with the Melanesian Mission (UK). Each award is given to monitors operating Observatory stations. Interested lay members and clergy have been trained in measuring shoreline change, operate rain gauges, and notating storm intensity and durations. It incentivises, recognizes and gives thanks for the efforts of our participants and contributes to skilling our community.

Green Apostle Training
Green Apostle Training

Education
We are undertaking initiatives to combine climate and environmental sciences with theological and religious education. With Bishop Patteson Theological College, international coastal scientists, theologians, and social scientists, are developing curriculum that integrates the study of climate change science with theological training. With faculty at the Solomon Islands National University, we are developing climate change curriculum. Our educational efforts endeavour to cross conventional boundaries between science and religion.

Coastal Erosion
To facilitate climate change research, we have formed a partnership with the University of Southampton, UK. We are supporting PhD research into coastal change impacts in the Solomon Islands. The research combines physical evidence of historical shoreline change from remote-sensing technology and a study of social implications based on participatory workshops and interviews in affected communities.

Measuring Coastal Erosion
Measuring Coastal Erosion

Relocation
Widespread coastal erosion threatens the well-being and development of communities in the Solomon Islands. The majority of the population live in highly vulnerable, low-lying coastal areas and relocation is already occurring across the country, most notably on the outer reef islands and small offshore artificial islands. At present, relocation efforts are rarely assisted by the government or NGOs. Unaided relocation of whole communities has led to the formation of illegal settlements and overcrowding, land disputes, and social conflict. ACoM, the Melanesian Mission UK, and the University of Southampton recognise the immediate need to develop adequate strategies to manage climate-induced relocation and intend to develop partnerships to support relocation efforts.

Combined strategies
Through this work we hope to be good stewards of the Solomon Islands for future generations.

Marie Schlenker and Dr Adam Bobbette

Shoreline Erosion on Fanalei Island

Climate Change in a Melanesian Context

When I first started my PhD project about climate change impacts in the Solomon Islands, neither myself nor my supervisors expected that I would be telling a story about land disputes, traditional customs and the wantok system. I considered myself a natural scientist, with an academic background in Geosciences and Environmental Physics, keen to collect and analyse numerical data. However, as I started delving into my project, I had to rethink this initial perception. How can I study climate change impacts if I do not consider the people who are being impacted by it?

ACoM Environment Observatory: Measuring shoreline change on Fanalei Island
ACoM Environment Observatory: Measuring shoreline change on Fanalei Island

My research still focuses on the analysis of physical data to gain insights into climate change impacts in the Solomon Islands. I use satellite images, aerial photographs and beach surveys to understand how shorelines of small islands have changed in the past and how they might evolve in a changing climate. However, I also added a significant social science component to my work. During my two-months long fieldtrip to the Solomon Islands, I conducted interviews and participatory workshops with local people to learn more about their perceptions of climate change and its impacts on coastal areas in the country.

Both, government representatives and leaders of the Anglican Church, confirmed what I had already expected: many coastal communities in the Solomon Islands are already experiencing adverse impacts of environmental change, including severe shoreline erosion and increased flooding frequency. The good news is that the majority of these communities seem to be highly resilient to the new environmental conditions. Most Solomon Islanders live a simple lifestyle in rural areas. They reside in palm leaf or wooden huts and subsist on fishing and growing crops in small gardens. As shoreline erosion and flooding threaten their villages, people simply dismantle their houses and rebuild them further inland on higher ground. Due to the strong sense of solidarity and social cohesion within extended families, known as the wantok system, people who are forced to relocate will receive boundless support from their relatives.

Flooding at Fanalei Island during high tide
Flooding at Fanalei Island during high tide

While this system of assisted relocation within villages currently seems to work well in many places across the Solomon Islands, it is simply not an option in some other places. Why? Some communities do not own any land to fall back onto. As part of my trip, I visited two communities in South Malaita, Fanalei and Walande, which have been dealing with this problem. Both communities are seafarers from Lau Lagoon in North Malaita who migrated to the small islands off the South Malaitan coast generations ago and have been growing ever since. Their status as migrants means that they do not have any original ancestral lands in the region. Land ownership in the Solomon Islands is tribal and passed down from generation to generation. As rural communities depend on the land for their survival, they guard it like nothing else.

Shoreline Erosion on Fanalei Island
Shoreline Erosion on Fanalei Island

Fanalei and Walande have experienced severe shoreline erosion and flooding in recent years. Fanalei community lost the majority of its former settlement area to the waves and is regularly flooded at high tide. Walande transformed from an island that hosted a population of over 1,000 people in 2002 to a deserted sandbank. As a result, the majority of the villagers migrated to the nearby mainland of South Malaita. Unfortunately, not without complications. Fanalei people are illegal settlers on the mainland and the traditional landowners will not let the issue slide, leaving Fanalei Islanders with an uncertain, possibly bleak future. Land ownership and land use are common sources of conflict in the Solomon Islands and even led to violent ethnic tensions in the past. Unfortunately, climate change and population growth are very likely to significantly exacerbate the issue over the next decades and, currently, the Solomon Islands government neither has the capacity to handle the increasing number of land disputes, nor to effectively support resettlement or to slow down the alarmingly high rate of population growth.

Walande Island - 2002
Walande Island – 2002
Remains of Walande Island - 2019
Remains of Walande Island – 2019

However, just a few kilometres further north, Walande people have found their own strategy to secure their livelihoods. In the 1940s and 50s, Walande’s leaders had the wise foresight to acquire land from tribes on the mainland by negotiating a payment consisting of traditional shell money, dolphin teeth and modern currency and maintaining close friendships with their neighbours. After Cyclone Namu hit the island in 1986, the villagers decided to take their fate in their own hands. Educated community members created a settlement plan and obtained the support of Australian Aid to bulldoze the land for relocation. When storms were becoming more frequent in the 2000s, leading to increased erosion and flooding of Walande Island, villagers had the opportunity to build a safe new home on the mainland.

New Walande on St Michael’s Day
New Walande on St Michael’s Day

The story of Walande shows that rural communities in the Solomon Islands are capable to manage their own local climate change adaptation. However, any kind of support from outside is greatly appreciated by the communities and can go a long way. The Melanesian Mission UK currently supports the development of an environment observatory within the Anglican Church of Melanesia, which will empower local people to create their own scientific evidence of climate change and shoreline erosion, increase environmental knowledge within communities and facilitate the design of effective adaptation strategies.

More information about the communities of Fanalei and Walande and the ACoM Environment Observatory can be found in my travel blog: Save Islands.

Marie Schlenker

Marie Schlenker is a PhD student within the Energy and Climate Change Research Group at the University of Southampton, researching the impact of climate change and coastal hazards on the Solomon Islands. Her project is jointly supervised by Prof. Robert Nicholls, Prof. David Sear and Dr. Ivan Haigh and supported by the Melanesian Mission UK, the Anglican Church of Melanesia and the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute. She has just returned from a 2-months long fieldtrip to the Solomon Islands.

Climate Change & Multiple Hazards - Emoatfer Swamp, Efate

Climate Change, Multiple Hazards and the Future of Vanuatu

The nation of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean is an archipelago of 83 islands, over 100 languages and a highly diverse and endemic flora and fauna. Paradoxically, Vanuatu has been described as being both the most naturally hazardous place on earth whilst also hosting the happiest people on the planet. It is also a nation facing changes; changing climate as the world warms, and changing social and economic futures driven by increased connectivity with the global community.

In August of this year, the University of Southampton funded a trip to Vanuatu with the help of the Melanesian Mission and Anglican Church of Melanesia. The aims of the visit were to build links with organisations in Vanuatu to learn more about the challenges and choices faced by the people, but also to better understand how natural hazards are transferred into changing risks to local communities. A third goal was to recover samples of lake and swamp sediments, that can be used to reconstruct changes in the natural environment and climate over timescales longer than monitored records. Some 23 hours of travelling and 11 time zones later we arrived in Vanuatu. For David this was the third trip to Efate and Port Vila, but for Chris and Sally it was their first time in Vanuatu and Melanesia.

Climate Change & Multiple Hazards - David, Sally, Chris, and Pastor Peter Kolmas
L-R: David, Sally, Chris, and Pastor Peter Kolmas. Background section cut through old (6000-7000 year) lakebed sediments. Oral history says the lake drained after an earthquake

Day 1 was all about recovery! This was made possible thanks to the very kind hosts Hugo, Fabienne and Marcel at Aquana Beach Resort. Day 2 and we were off to core swamps and lakes. We visited Emoatfer swamp in Eretap, an infilled lagoon containing over 4000 years of environmental and climate history, including evidence for the arrival of the first people on Efate. We were keen to get stuck in – which we did quite literally. After a walk up and over the former coral reef (now a low ridge) we descended through the Pandanus swamp forest and out into the sedge of the swamp. We recovered 4m of mud with a series of peat layers distributed down the core showing periods when the climate was drier. Thoroughly soaked, muddy but delighted, we moved on to Lake Emaotul. Getting to Emaotul involves a track that with increased use of 4WD has almost become impassable. We met up with Pastor Peter Kolmas – who is building a small church in the bush to serve his parishioners. Peter set about cutting us a trench through the road cutting so we could sample the lake muds that were exposed 22m above the current lake level. Local stories tell of an earthquake and the sudden draining of the lake about 2000 years ago. Peter and his family live up near the lake, care for the local community and grows some crops and tends his forest garden. His church is a simple breezeblock barn like structure with a tin roof, a few benches and a simple table festooned with flowers for the Altar.

Climate Change & Multiple Hazards - Joses Togase, David Sear and Father Nigel
L-R: Joses Togase, David Sear and Father Nigel outside the Vanuatu Christian Council Workshop building

During our time we met up with a range of wonderful and interesting people, including the UK’s new (1 month in post) High Commissioner Karen Bell and Deputy High Commissioner Paul Lawrence. They are part of a wider UK ‘Pacific Uplift’ policy that is seeing increased presence of the UK government in the Pacific with Samoa, Tonga and Solomon Islands receiving new High Commissioners this year. We were also able to give a presentation and meet up with the team in the Vanuatu Government’s Division of Meteorology and Geohazards. These are part of a wider Disaster risk management and climate change group whose job is to monitor and respond to natural hazards such as Cyclone Pam in 2015 and the recent eruptions in Ambae. We are hoping to develop more formal links with VMGD.

A key part of our trip was to deliver a workshop on multiple hazards with ACoM. Selwyn Leodoro, former speaker of the Vanuatu Parliament, and Joses Togase (Secretary to ACoM) helped organise the workshop under the leadership of Bishop Tama and hosted at the newly built Vanuatu Christian Council Centre. This centre is a fantastic resource as proven by its hosting two workshops – our one on Multihazards and across the grassy square another on the Theology of Disasters. At lunchtime we all met up where I met Father Nigel from the Solomon Islands who was due to host Marie Schlenker a PhD student co-funded by the University of Southampton and Melanesian Mission who is working with Rob Nichols, Ivan Haigh and David Sear on coastal erosion and community impacts of sea level rise in the Solomon Islands. A small world indeed but meeting him gave me great hope for Marie’s visit.

Climate Change & Multiple Hazards Workshop
Our workshop in Port Vila discussing how geohazards affects communities, and how people feel Vanuatu will change in the coming decades

Back on Vanuatu, our workshop attracted a range of stakeholders from Government, Communities, different islands, educators and students and NGO’s with experience of disaster management. We worked them hard – asking them to identify pathways along different hazards propagated into communities. We then asked them to identify the different scenarios for the future of Vanuatu. This prompted lively debate, but we agreed in the end on two major axes of future choices for Vanuatu – one that saw a traditional future at one end, and a highly ‘westernised’ future at the other. The other axis had a sustainable future at one end and an intensive industrial/agrobusiness future at the other. This provided lively debates and groups clearly had different perspectives, based on their backgrounds and nature of work. We then asked the group to explore how different factors would change along each axis – for example how might agricultural practices change in a sustainable traditional future vs an intensive westernised future? We had already seen evidence of changes when we passed the new shrimp farming lagoons built on the floodplain of the Teouma River in Eratap. This floodplain is subject to intense flooding during Cyclones – construction of shrimp farming ponds may not be sustainable in the long term.

In the afternoon after a fantastic lunch of Melanesian and Solomon Island dishes we asked the group to identify where in the possible future scenarios for Vanuatu each main Island lay – Tanna for example was seen to be largely traditional and sustainable whereas Efate was seen to be moving towards an intensive/westernised future. In our final session we asked delegates to return to their multiple hazard pathway diagrams and to highlight the changes that would occur under the different futures they had identified. In this way we were able to show delegates how the decisions made on the future direction of Vanuatu could impact communities during natural hazards. We found differences between islands, and this understanding is important for development planning, and in response to disasters (which directly relates to Sustainability Development Goals). For all delegates this was a new way of thinking and helped them to see how important it is to develop joined up planning for disaster management. What we learned was how most people wanted to retain a traditional, Christian community ethos – valuing strong community and family bonds. However, clear areas of change were also identified as necessary, including preserving sustainable livelihoods, whilst increasing gender equality and opportunity.

In our final day we explored Port Vila. There has been quite rapid change since David’s last visit in 2017. Roads were newly repaired and surfaced, and new building works were evident, largely funded by Chinese investment. In the market we met a woman who was weaving. We struck up a conversation with her and it turned out she was one of the many people evacuated form Ambae in the recent eruption. Although recently removed from her home, she seemed at peace with the events. Her explanation was down to the welcome she had received from the community in Pentecost Island who welcomed her and her children into their homes when hers became uninhabitable. Subsequently, she had been able to make her way to Efate and was schooling her children whilst working in the market. That said she wanted to return to her home, where her husband is buried, and where her family is slowly returning. This conversation clarified for us the outcomes from the workshop, whilst answering the apparent paradox of Vanuatu. It is those family and traditional bonds with home, coupled with a life that despite its apparent simplicity is nevertheless fulfilling which together enables the Ni-Vanuatu to be both happy and resilient in the face of natural disasters.

Our thanks again to Bishop Tama, Joses Togase and Selwyn Ledoro of ACoM, Alan Rarai of VMGD and all those who attended the workshop. A huge thanks too to the Melanesian Mission and the Vanuatu Christian Council. We look forward to reporting back and working with you again.

Notes from a recent visit hosted by the Anglican Church of Melanesia and the Melanesian Mission
David Sear, Sally Brown, Chris Hill – University of Southampton

Walande Island

Priests Become Scientists on “Disappearing Islands”

Press Release: 7 October 2019

Priests Become Scientists on “Disappearing Islands”

Priests in the Pacific Solomon Islands are being enlisted to help measure the impact of climate change and rising sea levels on the islands where they serve.

Rt Rev’d Mark Rylands, who has just returned from the islands and chairs the Melanesian Mission UK, said: “What we’re doing is using priests as scientists.

“We’ll use the strength of the Anglican Church in Melanesia to do the observations and get concrete measurements on how the islands are disappearing and the sea levels are rising.

“It’s the Anglican Church at the forefront, really pioneering what is of great concern to the whole world.”

It’s hoped the islands’ priests, who are being dubbed Green Apostles, will take daily readings of the tides and temperatures at the same time as they say their daily Morning Prayer.

They are geographically spread throughout the islands and will take measurements from posts in the ground going into the sea.

The plan is for this daily or weekly recording to continue for a decade.

“The nine bishops of Melanesia have signed-up to this project. They want it to happen,” Bishop Mark said.

“It’s the Anglican church at the forefront, really pioneering what is of great concern to the whole world.”

The Solomon Islands are in the Anglican Province of Melanesia, which has a historic link with the Diocese of Exeter in the UK.

Bishop Mark, who is based in Ashburton, Devon, was in the Solomon Islands to celebrate the enthronement of the new archbishop, the Very Reverend Leonard Dawea.

The data being collected by priests is one of a number of environmental research projects being undertaken by the Melanesian Mission with UK researchers and institutions, to enable to Anglican Church in Melanesia to support communities affected.

“The salt has got into the ground, they can’t grow crops anymore and the children have nowhere to play when they come home from school.”

Working with a team led by Dr Ivan Haigh, an associate professor at Southampton University, the project will document the changing patterns of coastal margins in the Solomon Islands.

Bishop Mark said: “This is one place where the Anglican Church can help the rest of the world. We have evidence of the islands disappearing, we’ve got videos from the 80s and 90s.

“We have Anglican church members who have lived on islands which have disappeared in their lifetime.

“When I was there in 2016, I saw the islanders of Fanalei, South Malaita. I spent some time with the elders and they were discussing how, for four months of the year, the island is under water.

“The salt has got into the ground, they can’t grow crops anymore and the children have nowhere to play when they come home from school.”

Marie Schlenker is currently in South Malaita as part of the University of Southampton team. She has been writing a blog about her experience.

The research results will be shared with local communities and presented to the Solomon Islands government. They will also be used internationally to lobby on behalf of those affected.

Former Blue Peter film maker Alex Leger, from Topsham, has been documenting the Solomon Islands on film for a number of decades, he and Dr Haigh will be showing his video evidence and discussing the plight facing the islands at Disappearing Islands a special event at Exeter Cathedral on Thursday 10 October.

For more information and interviews please contact Chloe Axford, Director of Communications, Diocese of Exeter: chloe.axford@exeter.anglican.org; 01392 294905, 07889 523776


Article updated 15 October 2019;

Since his return from the Solomon Islands, Bishop Mark Rylands, Chair of MMUK has been interviewed by the Diocese of Exeter and also United Christian Broadcasters about MMUK’s environmental projects with the Anglican Church of Melanesia.

Vanishing Worlds - Walande Island

Climate Change Threatens Pacific Islands

The small fragile islands of the Pacific are in the front line when it comes to climate change issues. Over the past year, MMUK has been actively working to promote research from this country which we hope will be of real benefit to the people of Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

Last June, Adam Bobette, a research student from Selwyn College, Cambridge, was in Solomon Islands setting up a research project, working alongside church people in the villages, to collect data on the impacts of climate change, including sea levels and coastal erosion. MMUK contributed to his funding and his work was warmly welcomed by the Church of Melanesia. The methodology is very simple and it is hoped that with accurate record keeping over many years, an accurate picture will emerge which will provide conclusive evidence of what is happening to the islands of the western Pacific as a result of climate change. Adam will re-visit the Solomons later this year to check on the progress of this project.

Katie Drew has also been working with members of Southampton University’s engineering, geography and oceanography departments who are involved in climate change research in the western Pacific under the direction of Professors Robert Nicholls, David Sear and Dr Ivan Haigh. One of their research students, Marie Schlenker, will be travelling to the Solomons later this year, to pursue research into the changing pattern of coastal margins, going back over thirty years. She will also be visiting schools to talk about climate change research. David Sear has been collecting core samples from the bottom of lakes, which provide the history of weather patterns and volcanic activity over the last 2000 years. Robert Nicholls and Ivan Haigh has been examining rates of sea level rise over the 20th and early part of the 21st century, and changes in the frequency and magnitude of coastal flooding.

The research so far shows oscillations in climate over many years and a much more complex pattern of change than was previously thought. The El Niňo effect causes rising and falling of water temperature in the Pacific Ocean. When the temperature rises, cyclone activity increases in frequency and intensity. While sea levels are undoubtedly rising, most of the damage is caused by storm surge events.

All agree that sea levels and cyclones will become critical over the next few years. Our researchers are also keen to study what can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change. Mangrove swamps and coral reefs are a vital part of the islands’ defences and must be preserved. Unrestricted logging activity unfortunately damages these defences.

So far this year, there has been severe flooding on Guadalcanal, causing devastating damage to food gardens and Cyclone Oma has caused severe damage to the outer eastern islands. MMUK has recently contributed over £1,000 to the church’s disaster fund.

The artificial islands of Malaita and the atolls of the Reef Islands and Ontong Java are most threatened. Walande Village, which once had a population of over 1,000, has been abandoned.

 

The maximum height of most atolls is six feet above sea level and when there is a storm surge the whole island can be swamped. The underground aquifers which are the only source of drinking water, are compromised and become brackish. This has happened to Ontong Java which has a unique Polynesian culture going back over 1,000 years. The inhabitants are being evacuated and face a very uncertain future.

We are fortunate in this country where the effects of climate change will not be seriously felt for many years. But in the Pacific the effects of global warming are already destroying cultures and communities. MMUK will continue to do all it can to help the people of Melanesia with disaster relief funding, supporting vital research and raising awareness of these issues.

Canon John PinderMMUK Trustee