Climate change forced these Fijian communities to move – and with 80 more at risk, here’s what they learned


File 20190430 136787 bz9zdf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Many houses were flattened after Tropical Cyclone Evan, leading to the partial relocation of the Fijian viillage Denimanu.
Rowena Harbridge/AusAID, CC BY-SA

Annah Piggott-McKellar, The University of Queensland; Karen Elizabeth McNamara, The University of Queensland, and Patrick D. Nunn, University of the Sunshine Coast

The original Fijian village of Vunidogoloa is abandoned. Houses, now dilapidated, remain overgrown with vegetation. Remnants of an old seawall built to protect the village is a stark reminder of what climate change can do to a community’s home.

Vunidogoloa is one of four Fijian communities that have been forced to relocate from the effects of climate change. And more than 80 communities have been earmarked by the Fiji government for potential future relocation.




Read more:
For Pacific Island nations, rising sea levels are a bigger security concern than rising Chinese influence


Low lying coastal communities like these are especially vulnerable to threats of sea-level rise, inundation of tides, increased intensity of storm surges and coastal erosion. Extreme, sudden weather events such as cyclones can also force communities to move, particularly in the tropics.

But relocating communities involves much more than simply rebuilding houses in a safer location.

It involves providing the right conditions for people to rebuild the lives they knew, such as equitable access to resources and services, social capital and community infrastructure.

Our research documents the experiences and outcomes of relocation for two of these Fijian communities – Vunidogoloa and Denimanu.

The relocated villages

My colleagues and I visited Vunidogoloa and Denimanu, villages in Fiji’s Northern Islands, at the end of 2017 and spoke to village leaders and community members to learn how they felt about the relocation process.

All 153 residents of Vunidogoloa and roughly half of the 170 people in Denimanu moved away from their climate ravaged homes.

Map of Fiji showing the two case study sites.
Author provided

Flooding in Vunidogoloa

Vunidogoloa is a classic example of the slow creep of climate change. For a number of decades the residents have fought coastal flooding, salt-water intrusion and shoreline erosion. The village leaders approached the Fijian government, asking to be relocated to safer ground.

The relocation was originally set for 2012 but, after delays, the entire village moved roughly 1.5 kilometres inland two years later. This is often recognised as the first ever village in Fiji to relocate from climate change.

The new village relocation site of Vunidogoloa.

Cyclone in Denimanu

In contrast to Vunidogoloa, Denimanu experienced sudden onset effects of climate change.

While the village had been experiencing encroaching shorelines for years, it was Tropical Cyclone Evan, which hit in 2012 destroying 19 houses closest to the shoreline, that prompted relocation.




Read more:
Sidelining God: why secular climate projects in the Pacific Islands are failing


These homes were rebuilt roughly 500 metres from the original site on a hill slope. With the remaining houses still standing on the original site, the village was only partially moved.

The new village relocation site of Denimanu.
Author provided

Was relocation a success?

The relocation was a success in Vunidogoloa, and residents said they now feel much safer from climate change hazards. One villager told us:

We were so fearful because of the tides living at the old site. We were happy to move away from that fear.

But in Denimanu, where the relocated villagers live on a slope, fears of coastal threats have now been replaced by a fear of potential landslides. This is especially concerning as the village’s primary school was recently destroyed by a nearby landslide.

A relocated Denimanu local said:

We were delighted with the move to the new houses, but we were still worried about the landslide because the houses were on the hill and we know this place.

The landslide that destroyed the primary school in Denimanu village.

Ultimately, residents in both villages were happy with many aspects of the relocation process.

For example, they were provided solar power, rainwater tanks, and household facilities that weren’t available in the original villages. Vunidogoloa also received pineapple plants, cattle, and fish ponds, which have helped reestablish their livelihoods.

But it’s not all good news. While new housing was built for the community, they were built to a poor standard, with leaking through the doors and walls, especially in periods of high rainfall. Fiji is located in the tropics, so these infrastructure problems are likely to get worse.




Read more:
Don’t give up on Pacific Island nations yet


And moving the Vunidogoloa villagers away from the ocean might damage their livelihoods, as fishing is one of their dominant sources of food. The ocean also provides an important spiritual connection for local people.

The impacts of climate change are set to rise, especially if global action to halt greenhouse gas emissions stagnates. More vulnerable communities will need to move away from their current homes.

While relocating communities to safer, less exposed areas is one option to help people manage climate hazards, it’s not a viable solution for all those affected.

Our research shows relocation must be done in a manner that accounts for the rebuilding of local livelihoods, with sustainable adaptation solutions that put local priorities at the centre of this process.

And we need them before more coastal villages are impacted by both slow and sudden onset climate impacts, putting more people in danger.The Conversation

Annah Piggott-McKellar, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; Karen Elizabeth McNamara, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland, and Patrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Protecting wetlands helps communities reduce damage from hurricanes and storms



File 20181009 72133 1o1hr7u.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Protecting coastal wetlands, like this slough in Florida’s Everglades National Park, is a cost-effective way to reduce flooding and storm damage.
NPS/C. Rivas

Siddharth Narayan, University of California, Santa Cruz and Michael Beck, University of California, Santa Cruz

2017 was the worst year on record for hurricane damage in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean from Harvey, Irma and Maria. We had hoped for a reprieve this year, but less than a month after Hurricane Florence devastated communities across the Carolinas, Hurricane Michael has struck Florida.

Coastlines are being developed rapidly and intensely in the United States and worldwide. The population of central and south Florida, for example, has grown by 6 million since 1990. Many of these cities and towns face the brunt of damage from hurricanes. In addition, rapid coastal development is destroying natural ecosystems like marshes, mangroves, oyster reefs and coral reefs – resources that help protect us from catastrophes.

In a unique partnership funded by Lloyd’s of London, we worked with colleagues in academia, environmental organizations and the insurance industry to calculate the financial benefits that coastal wetlands provide by reducing storm surge damages from hurricanes. Our study, published in 2017, found that this function is enormously valuable to local communities. It offers new evidence that protecting natural ecosystems is an effective way to reduce risks from coastal storms and flooding.

Coastal wetlands and flood damage reduction: A collaboration between academia, conservation and the risk industry.

The economic value of flood protection from wetlands

Although there is broad understanding that wetlands can protect coastlines, researchers have not explicitly measured how and where these benefits translate into dollar values in terms of reduced risks to people and property. To answer this question, our group worked with experts who understand risk best: insurers and risk modelers.

Using the industry’s storm surge models, we compared the flooding and property damages that occurred with wetlands present during Hurricane Sandy to the damages that would have occurred if these wetlands were lost. First we compared the extent and severity of flooding during Sandy to the flooding that would have happened in a scenario where all coastal wetlands were lost. Then, using high-resolution data on assets in the flooded locations, we measured the property damages for both simulations. The difference in damages – with wetlands and without – gave us an estimate of damages avoided due to the presence of these ecosystems.

Our paper shows that during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, coastal wetlands prevented more than US$625 million in direct property damages by buffering coasts against its storm surge. Across 12 coastal states from Maine to North Carolina, wetlands and marshes reduced damages by an average of 11 percent.

These benefits varied widely by location at the local and state level. In Maryland, wetlands reduced damages by 30 percent. In highly urban areas like New York and New Jersey, they provided hundreds of millions of dollars in flood protection.

Wetland benefits for flood damage reduction during Sandy (redder areas benefited more from having wetlands).
Narayan et al., Nature Scientific Reports 7, 9463 (2017)., CC BY

Wetlands reduced damages in most locations, but not everywhere. In some parts of North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay, wetlands redirected the surge in ways that protected properties directly behind them, but caused greater flooding to other properties, mainly in front of the marshes. Just as we would not build in front of a seawall or a levee, it is important to be aware of the impacts of building near wetlands.

Wetlands reduce flood losses from storms every year, not just during single catastrophic events. We examined the effects of marshes across 2,000 storms in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. These marshes reduced flood losses annually by an average of 16 percent, and up to 70 percent in some locations.

Reductions in annual flood losses to properties that have a marsh in front (blue) versus properties that have lost the marshes in front (orange).
Narayan et al., Nature Scientific Reports 7, 9463 (2017)., CC BY

In related research, our team has also shown that coastal ecosystems can be highly cost-effective for risk reduction and adaptation along the U.S. Gulf Coast, particularly as part of a portfolio of green (natural) and gray (engineered) solutions.

Reducing risk through conservation

Our research shows that we can measure the reduction in flood risks that coastal ecosystems provide. This is a central concern for the risk and insurance industry and for coastal managers. We have shown that these risk reduction benefits are significant, and that there is a strong case for conserving and protecting our coastal ecosystems.

The next step is to use these benefits to create incentives for wetland conservation and restoration. Homeowners and municipalities could receive reductions on insurance premiums for managing wetlands. Post-storm spending should include more support for this natural infrastructure. And new financial tools such as resilience bonds, which provide incentives for investing in measures that reduce risk, could support wetland restoration efforts too.

The dense vegetation and shallow waters within wetlands can slow the advance of storm surge and dissipate wave energy.
USACE

Improving long-term resilience

Increasingly, communities are also beginning to consider ways to improve long-term resilience as they assess their recovery options.

There is often a strong desire to return to the status quo after a disaster. More often than not, this means rebuilding seawalls and concrete barriers. But these structures are expensive, will need constant upgrades as as sea levels rise, and can damage coastal ecosystems.

Even after suffering years of damage, Florida’s mangrove wetlands and coral reefs play crucial roles in protecting the state from hurricane surges and waves. And yet, over the last six decades urban development has eliminated half of Florida’s historic mangrove habitat. Losses are still occurring across the state from the Keys to Tampa Bay and Miami.

Protecting and nurturing these natural first lines of defense could help Florida homeowners reduce property damage during future storms. In the past two years our team has worked with the private sector and government agencies to help translate these risk reduction benefits into action for rebuilding natural defenses.

Across the United States, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, coastal communities face a crucial question: Can they rebuild in ways that make them better prepared for the next storm, while also conserving the natural resources that make these locations so valuable? Our work shows that the answer is yes.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on Sept. 25, 2017.The Conversation

Siddharth Narayan, Postdoctoral Fellow, Coastal Flood Risk, University of California, Santa Cruz and Michael Beck, Research professor, University of California, Santa Cruz

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Some remote Australian communities have drinking water for only nine hours a day



File 20171109 11954 6ng74t.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Communities in Cape York are among those with restricted access to mains water.
NomadicPics/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Cara Beal, Griffith University

Some remote Australian communities have access to drinking water for only nine hours a day for part of the year, but these households can still use up to ten times the average of urban households.

Many communities in the Torres Strait Islands have their mains water supply limited to nine hours a day during the week, and 16 hours a day at weekends, during the six-month dry season from May to October. Some remote Aboriginal communities in mainland Australia have similar restrictions.


Read more: Water in northern Australia: a history of Aboriginal exclusion


The vast majority of these residents do not pay directly for water, as they live in public housing. A three-year research project has been using smart meters to monitor water use as well as promoting community discussion. We found the water is largely used for things that might be viewed as luxuries in an urban setting but which play an important role in community life, such as dampening roofs for cooling and washing fishing gear.

The challenge, therefore, is finding ways to manage this unsustainable water use, apart from physically turning off the water. By understanding the challenges of life in remote Australia and working closely with locals, we identified some reasonable and realistic ways to reduce water use.

Revealing the reasons for high water use

Water restrictions, which have been in place on and off since the early 2000s, exist for a simple reason: there is not enough water to meet demand, especially during the dry season.

Providing water to remote and isolated communities is expensive, whether it comes from a desalination plant (which turns seawater into drinking water) or from a groundwater bore. Typically a diesel generator is used to generate power for water extraction, treatment, pumping and sewage management.

Leaking taps contribute to high water use in some remote communities.
Cara Beal, Author provided

For the past three years I have led a team of Griffith University researchers investigating how water was being used, and how it could be reduced. We installed smart meters in three remote communities, across the Torres Strait Islands, Cape York and the Northern Territory.

The data revealed an average daily use of 900 litres per person, rising to more than 4,000L per person per day in some cases. (The average southeast Queensland household daily use is around 180L per person.) Once the energy costs of pumping and treating this water via diesel-fuelled generators are included, it’s clear this is unsustainable.

We then broke down household water use into categories such as showering and outdoor, and discussed water use habits with each participating household. This gave unprecedented insights into how, where and why water is being used in remote community households.

Beating the dust and heat

Outdoor water use makes up, on average, at least 75% of total household water demand. This can get even higher in the dry season. Leaking taps are also a major contributor.

Average residential water use per person in three remote communities from Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Cara Beal, Author provided

We spoke to participants in Cape York and the Torres Strait about their water use during the middle of the dry season. We found five key drivers for this high outdoor water use (aside from leaks):

  • dust control (and flea control) from non-surfaced roads and yards
  • cooling down (watering the house roof and bare earth or concrete driveways to create an evaporative effect)
  • washing down boats and fishing or hunting equipment
  • physical amenity (gardening or greening)
  • social amenity (having a continuous source of tap water was an important resource during social gatherings, including sorry camps, tombstone openings, cultural events and extended family gatherings).

Reducing drivers of high water use

In urban areas, outdoor household water use is often described as “discretionary”. This implies that the water is associated with “wants” (like car washing, irrigation or filling pools) more than “needs” (drinking, cooking or personal hygiene).

But in the case of these remote communities, our research suggests that outdoor water use is often linked directly to health and well-being. In areas where temperatures during winter regularly climb above 30℃, dust suppression, cooling and flea control are not trivial desires.

Water is used for controlling dust from unsealed roads and bare earth in remote communities.
Cara Beal, Author provided

This means that simply adopting the typical urban water management approach is unlikely to reduce demand. Poor sanitation in many Indigenous communities further complicates the situation.


Read more: It’s a fallacy that all Australians have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene


The challenge is to reduce water demand, to allow restrictions to be eased in the future, while maintaining a sustainable level of water use in these communities.

Community-involved solutions

We asked our participants from two communities in western Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands how they would reduce high outdoor water use.

Overwhelmingly, they observed a need for more education and awareness of why water conservation is important. Before piped water systems, people were deeply connected to their water sources and could self-manage their supplies.

Nowadays many communities have only one or two good-quality water sources, and the Western-style built infrastructure acts as a barrier to this previous personal connection to water. The economic value of water is also poorly understood in many remote communities.

Similarly, service providers (and others) need to develop a greater understanding of the cultural, social and spiritual value of water from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island person’s perspective.


Read more: The role of water in Australia’s uncertain future


Our team, together with the participants and local service providers, trialled a water efficiency pilot program. This involved both residents and local councils learning about the importance of conserving water and offering suggestions on ways to do this. Talking with the residents, it become clear that high outdoor water use was not purely driven by the fact that water is free for them.

Many of the activities were centred on health (cooling and dust suppression) and food provision (fishing and hunting). Nevertheless, ways of reducing water use were identified. These included watering after dark, reporting leaks, using tap timers and washing hunting and fishing equipment on grass.

The ConversationThe pilot programs have shown promising results, although their funding will shortly end. The challenge will be to change behaviour over time. If this can be done, it will go a long way to reducing the need to limit some communities to nine hours of treated water a day.

Cara Beal, Senior research fellow, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Communities are taking renewable power into their own hands


Nicky Ison, University of Technology, Sydney and Ed Langham, University of Technology, Sydney

Australia, like much of the rest of the world, is in the midst of an energy transition. With falling electricity demand and the uptake of household solar panels in just under 1.4 million homes, the most important question is not whether this transition is happening, but how we manage it to maximise the benefit to all Australians.

Community energy is one of the answers. Community energy projects are those in which a community comes together to develop, deliver and benefit from sustainable energy. They can involve energy supply projects such as renewable energy installations and storage, and energy reduction projects such as energy efficiency and demand management. Community energy can even include community-based approaches to selling or distributing energy.

Community energy projects allow individuals to be involved in clean energy beyond the bounds of their own homes or businesses and in so doing bring a range of benefits and opportunities for their household and for the wider community.

Global movement

Community energy has and continues to underpin the energy transition in countries like Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom and even the United States. The first modern wind turbine – Tvindkraft – was literally built by a community in Denmark in 1978.

In Germany, 47% of the installed capacity is owned by citizens and communities while in Scotland there are now 249 community energy projects.

Here in Australia, while the community energy sector is still new, a recent baseline assessment found that there are now 19 operating community energy projects, which have as of the end of 2014 generated 50,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy – enough to power more than 9,000 homes. The community energy sector has already contributed more than A$23 million in funding for sustainable energy infrastructure.

Some prominent examples of community energy in Australia include:

  • the international award-winning Hepburn Wind in Victoria – Australia’s first community wind farm;

  • Denmark Community Wind in Western Australia – Australia’s second community wind farm;

  • Repower Shoalhaven – a community-owned 100-kilowatt solar array on the Shoalhaven Heads bowling club on the New South Wales south coast;

  • Darebin Solar Savers in Melbourne – a project that saw the Moreland Energy Foundation put solar on the roofs of 300 pensioners, who use the savings to pay back the cost of the system through their council rates;

  • several donation-funded community solar projects on community buildings across Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

Starting with solar

There are more than 60 groups across every state and territory in Australia developing community energy projects. The most popular are community solar projects.

While it’s clear that Australians love solar, there are more structural reasons why communities are starting with community solar projects.

Firstly, solar’s “scalability” means it can be easily tailored to a community’s energy needs. Groups can start with small projects and build their capacity and know-how.

Secondly, Australia has high retail electricity prices and low wholesale electricity prices. This means that business models such as community solar tend to stack up much better if they can reduce energy consumed at the meter, rather than competing with large coal-fired power generators in the wholesale market.

Indeed, the Coalition for Community Energy has recently released a guide to “behind the meter” models of community solar.

Going further

However, while many communities are starting with solar, many have more lofty ambitions, including the Zero Net Energy Town project in Uralla, NSW, the 100% Renewable Yackandandah initiative in Victoria, community bioenergy projects in Cowra and northern NSW, and many more.

This ambition and the potential of community energy in Australia led the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to fund the development of a National Community Energy Strategy, led by the Institute of Sustainable Futures at University of Technology, Sydney. This outlines a range of initiatives that are needed to grow the community energy sector in Australia and maximise the potential benefit of the energy transition to all communities.

Community energy projects are disruptive business models with financial and social value. The motivations for community energy are many and varied including wanting to act on climate change, wanting to reduce the amount of money that goes out of a community in power bills, and increasing social capital and community resilience.

We are starting to see the rise of community entrepreneurs innovating and developing new models, and in doing so reshaping the future of energy in their communities. With the support mechanisms outlined in the National Strategy, there is no reason that Australia can’t follow in the footsteps of other countries, to allow all communities across Australia to benefit socially and financially from the energy transition.

The Conversation

Nicky Ison is Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology, Sydney.
Ed Langham is Research Principal at University of Technology, Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.