Customary Land and Climate Change Induced Relocation—A Case Study of Vunidogoloa Village, Vanua Levu, Fiji

Dhrishna Charan, Manpreet Kaur and Priyatma Singh


The South Pacific being the hub of climate change associated environmental and social developments is irrefutably one of the world’s most predisposed regions when it comes to the climate and weather induced disasters (Boege 2011). Particularly susceptible are the several of the low-lying coral islands (Nunn 2012). The livelihoods of majority of the Pacific Islanders which revolve around the Pacific Ocean is being acutely affected due to rising sea levels, increased coastal erosion, inundation, flooding and salinization of coastal aquifers (Ferris et al. 2011). For several of the communities in the South Pacific, adaptation has become an immediate necessity for survival. The pressing need to acclimatize to climate change adversities has escalated over the last couple of years and the issue of climate change taking its toll in many island nations has surfaced in recent discourses (Barnett and Campbell 2010).

On the onset, Fiji’s marine and coastal ecosystems endow considerable physical, financial, societal, ecological and cultural benefits to approximately half of the country’s estimated 902 964 population (Govan 2009). Yet, the repercussions of climate change on the coastal ecosystems are threatening the way of life of the coastal inhabitants and for the residents of Vunidogoloa in the province of Cakaudrove in Vanua Levu, relocation has emerged as a reality for more than three decades.

D. Charan • P. Singh (H)

Department of Science, The University of Fiji, Saweni, Lautoka, Fiji e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

D. Charan

e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it M. Kaur

Department of Language, Literature and Communication, The University of Fiji, Saweni, Lautoka, Fiji

e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it © Springer International Publishing AG 2017

W. Leal Filho (ed.), Climate Change Adaptation in Pacific Countries, Climate Change Management, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50094-2_2

In February 2014, the village was the first in Fiji to reposition; moving 2 km inland after years of inundation, storm surges, coastal abrasion and unwarranted flooding had made their village susceptible to the impacts of climate change (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2014). The traditional responses of disaster relief were no longer protecting the village community despite thousands of dollars spent on the construction of sea walls. Community relocation was the only cogent solution to safeguard the inhabitants of Vunidogoloa (Edwards 2012, p. 3). Conversely, this was an enormously emotional and harrowing headway for the villagers especially since they had to retreat from their customary land which has been part of their culture and identity for their entire life.

Relocation may be the last resort but also one of the best adaptation responses for several of the coastal Fijian villages currently facing similar tribulations as Vunidogoloa (Rubelli 2015). This also indicates that quite a few of these vulnerable villagers will be experiencing similar limitations as faced by the people of Vunidogoloa. Some of the drawbacks are the availability of land for settlement, governance and funding and perhaps the most intricate of all is the traditional and emotional place attachment. Disputes over land rights as well as loss of social and communal cohesion will highly likely create some of unconstructive effects of population relocations (Ferris et al. 2011). According to Wewerinkle (2013), the cultural identity of the people is likely to be impeded by the loss of customary land that is anticipated to occur as a result of climate change. A report by Nurse et al. (2014) explains that barriers to taking action have also been attributed to endogenous factors such as traditional values and awareness.

In many indigenous communities access to land depends on membership in a specific clan. For the iTaukei (indigenous Fijians) the ownership of land is vested in the mataqali (Fijian clan or landowning unit) (Fonmanu et al. 2003). Land offers not only livelihood but it is also the source of the traditional and spiritual wellbeing for many of the island communities. This is why despite the distressed situation on the islands there are still people who do not want to relocate (Boege 2011). Generation gap also influences the decision to relocate. In the Vunidogoloa resettlement case, it was particularly the elderly who did not want to move, while members of the younger generation were keen to move.

Developing countries also have a major limitation in capacity making adaptation difficult. Limitations include both human capacity and financial resources. The lack of funding available in various forms and difficulties in accessing the funds which are available represents a major barrier for adaptation, particularly for local community action (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2006). Climate-induced population displacement entails a governance and policy framework that can holistically respond to communities challenged with harsh impacts of climate change. Lack of proper awareness and institutional capacity also limits adaptation process (Amundsen et al. 2010). Relocation of Vunidogoloa village provides an opportunity to address the multiple societal issues to foster long term sustainability in the process of relocating communities.

The document on Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement within States (Displacement Solutions 2013) forms a preliminary guiding framework and premise for policy and lawmakers, based on current international law. Myriad doctrines such as community engagement and consent, provision of affordable housing, land solutions, basic services and economic opportunities to those affected, have been experiential in Vunidogoloa.

The purpose of this paper is to consider how social, cultural, financial and environmental factors can form barriers to the process of climate change induced relocation. The paper also aims to provide recommendations for assimilation of socioeconomic and customary elements in the much anticipated institutional relocation strategies. In addressing this purpose, the study as exemplified by testimonies and series of in-depth semi structured interviews from some people of Vunidogoloa village and the government administrators provides a synopsis of some of the fundamental challenges encountered by the people of Vunidogoloa village from the inception till the completion of the entire resettlement. In particular, it accentuates the intricacies surrounding the socio-cultural aspects of the relocation process. The loss of Fijians customary land that is projected to occur as a result of climate change is plausible to impede with their cultural identity and associated climate induced repositioning. The challenges to relocating the community manifestly exhibits the exigency for new policies and procedures that specifically respond to climate induced relocation. This paper concludes by proposing some strategies that can be applied to accomplish an improved transition that suits closely knit Fijian communities as a whole and also cares for the various socio-cultural facets that embrace the community.

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