One day we will disappear: Tuvalu’s sinking islands | Guardian


By Eleanor Ainge Roy in Tuvalu

FUNAFUTI, 17 MAY 2019 (THE GUARDIAN) —On the hottest days, Leitu Frank feels like she can’t breathe any more. The housewife and mother of five decamps from her airless concrete home to catch the breeze in a simple wooden shack by the water’s edge. She folds washing and stares out at the unsettled turquoise sea, its moods and rhythms increasingly unpredictable, as its rising proximity threatens to strangle her family.

“The sea is eating all the sand,” says Frank, 32, dressed in a pink stretchy T-shirt and faded sarong.

“Before, the sand used to stretch out far, and when we swam we could see the sea floor, and the coral. Now, it is cloudy all the time, and the coral is dead. Tuvalu is sinking.”

“Tuvalu is sinking” is the local catch-all phrase for the effects of climate change on this tiny island archipelago on the frontline of global warming. A Polynesian country situated in Oceania, Tuvalu is no more than a speck in the Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Australia.

Tuvalu Kids Photograph seen by millions is rephotographed 6 years laterThe fourth smallest nation in the world, Tuvalu is home to just 11,000 people, most of whom live on the largest island of Fongafale, where they are packed in and fighting for space. Tuvalu’s total land area accounts for less than 26 sq km.

Already, two of Tuvalu’s nine islands are on the verge of going under, the government says, swallowed by sea-rise and coastal erosion. Most of the islands sit barely three metres above sea level, and at its narrowest point, Fongafale stretches just 20m across.

t1During storms, waves batter the island from the east and the west, “swallowing” the country, in the words of the locals. Many say they have nightmares that the sea will soon gobble them up for good, and not just as a distant fear in their slumber – but by the next generation. Scientists predict Tuvalu could become uninhabitable in the next 50 to 100 years. Locals say they feel it could be much sooner.

Nausaleta Setani, Frank’s aunt, sleeps beside the lagoon at night in the wooden shack, using a float buoy as a pillow. Initially a non-believer in climate change, like many older people on the island, Setani has slowly become convinced of the science as her daily life becomes tougher with every erratic movement of the sea.

“The weather is changing very quickly, day to day, hour to hour,” says Setani, 54, paradoxically soothed and disturbed by the ocean lapping metres away from her hut.

“I have been learning the things that are happening are the result of man, especially [from] other countries. It makes me sad. But I understand other countries do what is best for their people. I am from a small country. All I want is for the bigger countries to respect us, and think of our lives.”

The United Nations Development Programme classifies Tuvalu as a resource poor, “least-developed country”, that is “extremely vulnerable” to the effects of climate change. Porous, salty soil has made the ground almost totally useless for planting, destroying staple pulaka crops and decreasing the yields of various fruits and vegetables.

Starchy Pacific Island staples such as taro and cassava now have to be imported at great expense, along with most other food.

Since the rising ocean contaminated underwater ground supplies, Tuvalu is now totally reliant on rainwater, and droughts are occurring with alarming frequency. Even if the locals could plant successfully, there is now not enough rain to keep even simple kitchen gardens alive.

The Frank family spend around AUD$200 (US$137) a fortnight on groceries, a bill that keeps rising as the fruit on the trees that ring their modest home – breadfruit, bananas and pandanus – fail to ripen, and fall to the sandy ground, inedible and rotten.

The fish too, the stuff of life here, have become suspect. Ciguatera poisoning affects reef fish who have ingested micro-algaes expelled by bleached coral. When fish infected with these ciguatera toxins are consumed by humans, it causes an immediate and sometimes severe illness: vomiting, fevers and diarrhoea.

At the local hospital, a specialist department has been set up to study and manage climate change-related illnesses.

Around ten Tuvaluans present with ciguatera poisoning every week, accounting for about 10% of the weekly case-load of climate-related illnesses. Suria Eusala Paufolau (left, or above on mobile), acting chief of public health, says cases of fish poisoning began to climb a decade ago; around the same time the weather really started to go haywire.

t4Climate-related illnesses that have increased on par with the changing weather include influenza, fungal diseases, conjunctivitis, and dengue fever, according to the hospital’s research.

Higher daily temperatures are also putting people at daily risk of dehydration, heatstroke and heat rashes, Paufolau says.

“Generally the local population does not see the link between climate change and health. But there is always a sense of fear about what is happening to our home.”

Tuvalu is heavily reliant on foreign aid, with most of its GDP made up from donations from the UN and neighbouring countries.

Education and employment prospects on the island are limited, and the majority of young people whose families can afford it leave to study in Fiji, Australia or New Zealand – a “brain drain” that has been extensively documented.

But as climate change batters the seashore, a trickle of young Tuvaluans are returning, even if coming home can feel claustrophobic after the freedoms of life beyond the islands.

Tapua Pasuna, 24, was crowned Miss Tuvalu last year, and used her platform to campaign for women’s rights and education.

The daughter of the country’s third female MP, Pasuna describes herself as “floating” since she returned from university studies in New Zealand, and says she was drawn back to the island by extensive family obligations, and a sense of responsibility to do what she could for the archipelago.

“I left in 2010. When I came back I immediately noticed the difference. The heat is sometimes unbearable now, and the erosion is also dramatic. Some of my favourite spots have disappeared,” says Pasuna, sitting in a stiff-backed wooden chair in her tropical garden, the barely constructed seawall just metres from her home.

“I feel like this is a part of who I am and I shouldn’t just run away from it, even though it’s disappearing. To just abandon it at such a time as this, when it is hurting – I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t feel like I can do that.”

If this sounds like a tidal wave of despair, the mood on the ground is far less acute. When planes aren’t expected, children ride their bikes and play volleyball on the country’s airstrip, while young courting couples take lazy laps on their motorbikes.

In the afternoons, people snooze in hammocks for hours, and light campfires on the beaches to fry fish and keep the mosquitoes away. A sleepy, sanguine air permeates day-to-day life, as locals watch the lapping of the waves move ever closer.

“Come what may,” locals say again and again, quoting the prime minister, “God will save us.”

The largest building in the capital, Funafuti, is Government House, a three-storey white monolith that houses the offices of the country’s MPs. Tuvalu’s official government policy is to stay on the island – “come what may”.

Plans for adapting to climate change include the ongoing – and much delayed – construction of a sea wall to protect the administrative centre of the capital, funded by the UNDP.

The local town council has a plan to dredge and reclaim land at the south of Fongafale, raise the land 10 metres above sea level, and build high-density housing. It is a plan that would cost US$300m (US$206 million), and that so far has no funding. Other options – such as constructing a floating island – are also being explored, as is importing refuse from Australian mines to construct an energy wall to ring the atolls, breaking up the power of the sea as it smashes towards the islands. How the reef ecosystem would survive such a wall has not been explained.

Evacuating the islands is the last resort, says Tuvalu’s prime minister, Enele Sopoaga, despite frequent talk from Pacific neighbours that Tuvaluans will become the world’s first climate-change refugees.

Many government officials openly express anger at the election of Donald Trump, saying his climate change scepticism has precipitated a huge step back for global cooperation on climate issues, and made Tuvalu’s small voice on the world stage even smaller.

“I think they hate us,” says Soseala Tinilau (below), the director of the Environment ministry.

Tinilau is referring to the cheerful burning of coal by the US and Australia, among others, despite a recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that global warming must be kept to a maximum of 1.5C over the next 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate affects.

“During COP [climate] negotiations we had to stay up till 7am to ensure we were listened too,” says Tinilau.

“The world want to ignore us. They want to keep behaving as if we don’t exist, as if what’s happening here isn’t true. We can’t let them.”

Fiji has repeatedly offered land to the Tuvaluan government to relocate their population 1,200km south, an offer the Sopoaga government has not accepted. In a recent essay, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd suggested Tuvalu’s citizens could be offered full citizenship in exchange for their country’s maritime and fisheries rights; a proposal rejected by Sopoaga as “imperial thinking”.

“Moving outside of Tuvalu will not solve any climate change issues … If you put these people in the middle of industrialised countries it will simply boost their consumptions and increase greenhouse gas emissions,” says Sopoaga, a fierce advocate for global cooperation on climate change issues.

“I am very worried about this very self-defeatist approach to suggest that people from low-lying, at-risk countries could be relocated. Because it fails to understand the implications of this issue for the entire world.”

Sopoaga says there is “no plan B” for Tuvalu, and every government effort is concentrated on adapting to the changing weather patterns – and staying put.

“We cannot just say, ‘Kick these people out.’ It is too simplistic and defeatist an approach,” says Sopoaga.

“I think it would be a great shame for the world to allow that to happen. I believe we still have time to make this island very attractive, very beautiful, and continue to be inhabited by generations of Tuvaluans to come.”

Seen from the air, Tuvalu looks like paradise: a slim scar of sand densely planted with coconut palms, and ringed by shallow emerald waters. But up close, the fragility of the land reveals itself. Beside the runway, golden sand spills on to the concrete, and scraggly green grass struggles to survive. The horizon is flat, and dominated by sea; sea that presses at you from every side. The air – ripe, over-cooked – pushes people into the dark interiors of their homes in the middle of the day, sticky and cloying.

At Tuvalu’s Bureau of Meteorology, situated on the edge of the runway – with pig pens to its left and the country’s prison to its right (home to just six inmates) – Nikotemo Iona and his small team are working overtime as they crunch the latest rainfall measurements. They are hours away from declaring another drought.

According to local climate data, Iona says the biggest impacts of climate change on Tuvalu have been rising air temperatures, more intense and frequent storm surges and decreasing rainfall, as well as the total inundation of low-lying coastal parts of Funafuti – including, sometimes, the country’s lifeline, its runway.

“Many people intend to migrate in response to climate change,” says Iona, sitting inside his squat, concrete office, designed to stay upright and continue broadcasting during cyclone season, which is intensifying year on year.

“However, most of the older generation do not want to move as they believe the will lose their identity, culture, lifestyle and traditions. But I believe that younger generations intend to migrate for the sake of the future generations.”

During storm surges or the highest tides, the Pacific Ocean bubbles up from the sandy soil under Enna Sione’s small yellow house. Fifty metres away, palm trees lie scattered across a rocky, coral strewn beach, turning grey in the hot sun, their twisted, decaying root systems facing skywards.

Sitting on a slayed coconut tree, Sione’s eyes are troubled as she stares at the ocean, beating its relentless path against her home. Sione, her husband and four children are planning to migrate to New Zealand in the next two years – to join more than 2,000 of fellow Tuvaluans already resident in the country; a migrant population that doubles every five years.

“The weather has really, extremely changed. Sometimes I feel scared of the ocean,” says Sione, who adds that she is leaving for the sake of her kids.

“Maybe one time Tuvalu will disappear. From what I can see a lot is already gone. I think one day we will disappear.” …. PACNEWS


WARNING! Banning Facebook in Papua New Guinea is a bad move

Facebook banBanning Facebook for 12 months or any ban at all is a bad move.

The reason why politicians are afraid  of  Facebook is because it has done more in the last 10 years  to hold them to  account than mainstream media outlets.   Facebook  has become the most important tool that provides the verification for so called infrastructure projects that  MPs claim have been completed but have not.

Facebook has been used to hold the former Health Minister Puka Temu to account for the medicine shortages in the country. It has been used to correct misconceptions that TFF money has been going to schools. Teachers from remote schools who have not been paid for months sent  their details using the social media network  for verification.

With crowdsourced information from Facebook, Papua New Guineans have been able to see the problems in health, education and the economy.  Dr. Sam Yokopua, Dr. Glen Mola, two of the most senior doctors in the country use Facebook to highlight the most critical shortages affecting Port Moresby General Hospital.

Is it fake news?  No.

In case you have not noticed,  thousands of Papua New Guineans use Facebook for business transactions.  That’s where they make their money from.  Large businesses use Facebook as a way to reach out to their customers.

How do you plan to compensate for the 12 month disconnection with their  customer base?

Banning Facebook, will be a huge embarrassment for the country that hosted APEC. The high ideals  of  “Digital connectivity” and “Digital inclusiveness”  will be thrown out of  the window.

A lot of governments want to ban Facebook. But it really has not worked.  China, North Korea, Iran are among the list. While Iran has a ban on Facebook,  people, including the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani,  uses Twitter as an alternative.  Point is, you can’t get away from social media.

There is a general agreement that there are a lot of  people who use Facebook  to spread fake news.  They should be investigated and prosecuted using the cybercrime act  if law enforcement has the capacity to do it.

But to ban Facebook has wide-ranging implications including direct government interference on the freedom of speech of Papua New Guineans and their right to hold their leaders to account.

The best thing  to do is:

  1. Do the right thing by the people
  2. Be transparent. If there is a problem acknowledge it, fix it and correct misinformation.
  3. Be truthful. You can’t go wrong in the age of social media.

Hard drives stolen: NBC journalist writes complaint letter to Air Niugini, Mt Hagen

Gloria Bauai wrote on Facebook:

I will be writing a formal letter of complaint to Air Niugini Mt Hagen cargo…the very people we entrusted to keep our belongings safe turned around and stole from us…literally!!

I admit part of the blame is ours as well! but when you’re on a tight schedule working and have a very small window to rush back to the airport, in time for boarding, you tend to forget the smallest things…like shifting the external drives..

My colleague Edwin Wavu and I have become victims!

We only realised when we arrived in POM late afternoon and were trying to exchange footage!

Someone had gone through his bag and stolen one of two externals inside! It’s sad to note that the external drive had footage of issues in remote Western Highlands which we covered over the two day duration!

Again…we will be sending a formal letter tomorrow!! but if anyone has any connection there, please pass the message!

We were there to be your mouthpiece! and you ignorantly stole from us!!

East Sepik Provincial Govt goes to court, wants LLG presidents to be elected

East Sepik Governor, Allan Bird (pic by Jason Prince Wuri) 

The East Sepik Provincial Government  is going to court  to  determine if  a National Executive Council  decision that disallowed the direct election of  Local Level Government Presidents is legal.

The  Supreme Court reference will seek to establish  if  the NEC  decision  followed proper legal protocols and abides by  the constitution of   Papua New Guinea.   East Sepik Governor,  Allan Bird, said lawyers representing the ESPG  will be filing the supreme court reference  at 2pm this afternoon.

“We are also seeking a deferral  of the LLG elections,” he said. “Otherwise, the LLG elections will be null and void if the  courts declare the NEC decision unconstitutional after elections have been done.”

As per the NEC decision,  only ward members  will be  elected. LLG presidents will be ‘appointed’ members of provincial assembly voted in by the ward members.  It is a similar process  that happens after  national elections hen MPs choose  the Prime Minister.

“The Prime Minister is an appointed position.  The Prime Minister is appointed by other MPs. He is not elected.  We do not want that. We want  LLG members who are independently elected  and maintain that independence.

“The Government has broken the law.  Both with this and the deferral of  local level government elections. LLG elections are supposed to happen within three months  after the end of the National General Elections,” Governor Bird said.

Similar concerns were raised two months ago by  former Morobe  Governor, Luther Wenge who said  LLG members are, at present, illegally in office because the elections have been delayed by  two years.

“We have the money to pay for roads and fancy highways, but we don’t have money for  a process that maintains the backbone of our democracy,”  Allan Bird said.

Original article:


Sylvester Gawi: Deplorable neglect of PNG’s ‘voice of the nation’

NBC_Lae1-PostCourier-24042019-680wideI grew up in the 1990s listening to NBC Radio – Radio Kundu – which was informative and always reaching out to the mass population of Papua New Guinea who can afford a transmitter radio.

From entertaining stringband tunes, toksave segments and nationwide news coverage to the ever popular school broadcasts in classrooms, NBC (National Broadcasting Corporation) has been the real voice of the nation.

It contributed immensely to the nation’s independence, growth and development and stood steadfastly to promote good governance and transparency in development issues the country faces.

READ MORE: NBC-PNG rebranding – but nothing to show in the provinces

For more than 40 years it has been the most effective communication medium for most ordinary citizens who benefited from its nationwide coverage.

I was a young kid back then and grew up inspired to take up a job in radio broadcasting, particularly with NBC.

Radio Morobe was the ultimate choice for listeners all over the province. It broadcast in medium, shortwave and FM frequencies and reached even the rural and isolated regions in Morobe and neigbouring provinces.

The Radio Morobe studio building was constructed and opened in October 1971 and since then its pioneer broadcasters have all aged with time into the 21st century.

Building condemned
The Morobe provincial government has neglected its upgrading and funding in the last 10 years or more and since then the building has crumbled and was condemned in October 2018.

I joined NBC in 2015 and worked among a new crop of officers and a few oldies up till now.

These are some of the notable areas the MPG has failed to assist NBC Morobe, despite provincial governments being given the task to upkeep NBC radio services to be operational.

  • little or no funding annually for the station operations;
  • a tranmission tower built for NBC Morobe being taken back and managed by MPA. It is making millions for the MPA with nothing from its revenue given to NBC Morobe
  • general maintenance and or replacement of studio utilities
  • NBC reception towers not functioning, thus transmission is NOT reaching the wider population in rural remote areas
  • district authorities NOT realising the power of communication to their people and funding its reach in their electorates
  • politicians and aspiring politicians making empty promises and using the radio to promote their agendas and gone into hiding when elected
  • now the radio station structure has been condemned by authorities as unsafe NBC Morobe is no longer broadcasting
  • last but not the least, NBC Morobe management and staff are now being locked out of their temporary studio over non-payment of bills. The landlord is the MPG through its business arm Morobe Sustainable Development Ltd.

It has been almost 6 months since the NBC Morobe building was condemned by PNG Power as unsafe. Nothing concrete has been done to rebuilt it despite political promises.

NBC Morobe has been off-air for about 3 months now and staff are still on payroll without being physically at work. The same problem is being faced by majority of NBC radio stations nationwide.

Denied freedom
Our people have been denied their freedom to be informed on their government’s performance. Health, Education and disaster awarenesses are not reaching the people.

Land and resource owners are being denied their freedom of expression. The people can no longer send toksaves to their loved ones, but are forced to pay for and use expensive yet poor telecommunication methods to send messages.

The high cost of risky sea travel and road trips on deteriorating roads have cost so many lives, yet our government keeps promising the people that they will fix NBC services.

NBC radio services in Morobe have been going on and off. One cannot pick up its signal out of Lae City.

Multi-million kina resource extracting projects are sprouting all over Morobe and yet our people are NOT informed on the positive and negative impacts to their land, sea and rivers.

I hope our new Communication Minister Koni Iguan can fix this from the ministerial level. Minister Iguan’s Markham electorate cannot even receive NBC signal and its worse than you think.

Markham valley itself is an important economic hub of this country.

PNG Agriculture: Political rhetoric verses reality of neglect | by Julie Badui Owa

IMG-20190423-WA0020 (1)The flooding of an important agricultural station in Morobe Province  has revealed the years of neglect  by the National Department of Agriculture (DAL).

The Food Security Station at Erap outside of Morobe was once  a central player in agriculture research and animal husbandry. But the station has deteriorated over 20 years with many of the staff leaving for other jobs.

Food Security Officer, Richard Ngahan, who has lived at the station for 7 years  says every year, they see less support  coming from the National and Provincial governments.

“We Approached our headquarters in Port Moresby and the Provincial Government but we have not received  any response from them,”   he said.

Richard Ngahan (source: EMTV) 

Erap station is a  government institution that was used for livestock  breeding, aquaculture and rice development.

Margaret Titus, a Rice Project Officer,  from  the Morobe Provincial Division of Agriculture and Livestock, say the provincial government is unable to support the station due to  its own limited funding.

“We are connected because of the rice development program. With the current state of the station, this will affect the farmers involved in rice training.”

On the weekend,  staff vacated houses which became  partly submerged after the  Erap River burst its banks and flooded into the area. It’s a longstanding problem affecting an important government asset.

The paddocks are now  empty and the bush has taken over.  Squatters  have also moved into the area to settle.  The lack of funding is in  vast contrast to annual government rhetoric of the importance of agriculture in Papua New Guinea.

  • Julie Badui-Owa, is a journalist with EMTV’s Lae Bureau. She has investigated issues surrounding teachers pay cuts, the lack of funding  in education and irregularities in physical planning permits. 

One notch up: Lae Police now have CCTV cameras at the main market

g5If you saw the Lae Market  police station in 2012,  it was a depressing sight.  The windows were broken, it was dirty.

Today, the station is a different place.   Station Commander, Gordon Matafimo,  was moved from  the Chinatown  station to  the market.  The station was repaired  with help from Lae’s business community.

Gordon Matafimo, Market station commander 

Last week,  station began using  CCTV cameras. It is the first trial in Lae City and it is reaping very good results.  The camera have become  a powerful tool is crime prevention.

“On the first day, we made 20 arrests,” Matafimo said. “They were for petty crimes and traffic offences.”

Eyes that can see as far as Freddie’s (I meant the shop at Snack Bar) 

The CCTV cameras  came about as a result of negotiations  between the  Metropolitan superintendent and members of the Chinese community.   They asked how they could assist police and  Lae police requested for cameras that would boost police  operations.

The cameras record and store up to 40 days of footage.   Police can see number plates  of vehicles  committing traffic offences.  They can also identify  petty  crime offenders,  have them arrested within minutes and have the evidence ready to present  in court.