Many forecasts have been made to predict the number of climate change induced migration with the International Organization for Migration (2009) estimating the number of environmental migrants to range from 25 million to a billion by the year 2050. In the past, more than 15 million people have been estimated to be displaced due to natural disasters annually around the globe with these numbers projected to increase significantly due to the increasing risk brought upon by climate change (Yonetani 2014). The government of Fiji, in recognition of the eminent dangers and urgency of climate induced relocation, is currently engaged in a design and consultation process of establishing a relocation guideline to assist communities forced to migrate due to climate change impacts. The vulnerability assessments carried out by the Fijian government has identified as many as 830 communities that are at risk from climate change with 45 of these being recommended for relocation (Turagaiviu 2015).
This article examines Vunidogoloa village relocation with respect to the challenges faced by the villagers, essentially in terms of their attachment to the land, cultural and community cohesion and governance and funding. The challenges faced by the villagers and their coping mechanisms will be highlighted in this article with the expectation it will provide a repository of experiences that contains lessons and guidelines for other villages in Fiji. Therefore this research is oriented towards unearthing and documenting the experiences of the villagers to form recommendations that can be used by villagers who will experience similar relocation due to sea-level-rise. This research forms a key element to tackle the adverse impacts of climate change by proactively learning about climate induced relocation and adaptive responses in an effort to increase the resilience of those affected.
The sentiments surrounding relocation is complex and as such a mixed methodology was employed to gain an insight into the experiences of the Vunidogoloa villagers during their relocation. Key informant interviews and village survey were conducted to gather primary data on the relocation from those who had first-hand knowledge about the entire relocation process. The key informant interviews and survey were conducted during the month of January, 2016. Literature review was also conducted using electronic databases, relevant websites and online reports related to the research topic. The review of existing research, related to this topic, was used to explore and define how this study fit in the work being carried out on climate induced displacements regionally and globally.
Key informant interviews using a structured questionnaire was conducted with government officials and other professions who were directly involved in the Vunidogoloa relocation process. The ten key informants interviewed provided an insight which served as a basis for future information gathering as the study progressed. The village survey was carried out using questionnaires via face-to-face interviews with Vunidogoloa villagers. The researchers interviewed 20 villagers. Non proportional quota sampling with categories of gender, age, social status and membership in community sub-groups (such as women’s group) was used to identify the survey participants within the village. Semi-structured interviews were carried out, exploring the following themes: demographic characteristic; level of awareness on climate change and its related adaptation activities; coping mechanisms employed to overcome flooding and sea level rise at their previous village site; challenges faced during/after the relocation. Each interview usually lasted between 30 and 45 mins.
Communication in iTaukei language was carried out and interpreted by a translator who was engaged to assist the interviewers. The language barrier was a major limitation that was faced during this research. The villagers, especially the elderly had difficulty speaking in English and a translator was involved in this research project, to overcome this problem. Since translation is an interpretive act which depends on the interpretation and understanding by the translator, there is always a risk that meaning may get lost in the translation process. For instance, it was difficult at times to capture the strong sentiments expressed by the villagers especially in relation to the relocation day, by translating the iTaukei language they used to English. The villagers also had difficulty understanding some of the scientific terms used in the questionnaire as it was difficult to translate some scientific jargons in the iTaukei language. However, constant discussion and consultation between the translator and the researcher during each step of the interview process ensured that translation related problems were reduced whenever possible.