The proposed Loss and Damage finance facility agreed to at COP27 is ‘too late’ to compensate for more than 15 years of suffering in the Carteret Islands, says activist Ursula Rakova

For Ursula Rakova of Carteret Islands in Bougainville, the proposed Loss and Damage finance facility agreed to at the global climate talks in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt last week, is ‘too late’ to compensate for more than 15 years of suffering endured by her people.

And, she’s not waiting for world leaders to agree on how to operationalise the funding facility, which is likely to take another five to ten years – by which time her island may be close to disappearing.

Rakova was at the COP27 conference in Sharm El Sheikh to meet potential donors and international civil society organisations that she hopes can support and fundraise for the relocation of 350 families from Carterets to mainland Bougainville.

“The Loss and Damage funding should rightfully be coming to us and we need it urgently and right now. Since COP21, world leaders have promised ‘action’ and six years later at COP27 they are saying it’s all about ‘implementation.’  When are they going to walk the talk?  My people on Carterets and other atoll islands in Bougainville need some real action and implementation now,” Rakova told PACNEWS.

In the next five years, her organisation Tulele Peisa plans to move 350 families to Bougainville.

“We have a proposal that will cost K14 million, which is two million pounds, to move the 350 families. Both the Bougainville and PNG Governments know about our proposal but have not helped at all. They have not spent a toea (cent) to help us with the relocation.

“Most of the support that we’ve received have come from the churches in Australia, New Zealand, U.S and Germany. The other country that has really helped us was the Finnish Government. They helped plant cocoa at the new relocation site and today the families that have relocated to Bougainville are using the cocoa to sustain themselves – selling cocoa beans and selling surplus food from their food gardens and earning income,” said Rakova.

Included in the K14 million cost is the acquisition of land from the Catholic Church to house the climate refugees from Carteret Island.

“Currently the Catholic Diocese of Bougainville holds the title to the land. But we are working with our lawyers to draft a land deal so the title comes to us. The head of the Catholic church has been very supportive of our plight and gave the land to us on humanitarian ground.

Working with an independent global legal group, Tulele Peisa is in the process of developing Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the Catholic Diocese of Bougainville, the Council of Elders and Chiefs of the Carterets to establish a shared legal framework that is capable of guiding relocation.

The arrangement, although not officially formalised, is that Tulele Peisa will hold the four sites in trust for the relocated families. It gives the right of ownership to the relocated families once the land deed has been drafted and signed by all the relevant parties, including the Catholic Diocese of Bougainville, Tulele Peisa, the Council of Elders and Chiefs, and the host communities.

The four current relocation sites at Tinputz, Tearouki, Mabiri and Tsimba represent a total of 295 hectares, were ‘alienated’ to the Catholic Diocese in 1964 on a 99-year lease.

“There are 10 families on the first site in Tinputz and 20 families in Tearouki, living in makeshift homes on the second site. We need to plant trees to build resilience and mitigation for the relocated families. On our first relocation site in Tinputz, we have planted 152,000 trees including 25,000 pawpaw plants to sustain the displaced families,” said Rakova.

Carteret Island, a coral atoll in Bougainville, is home to 3,000 people in six island communities living on land less than three metres above sea level. 30 families from Carteret were the first climate refugees relocated to the mainland, with the help of churches and international organisations that funded the gradual movement of families since 2006.

In the early 1990s, after several years of experiencing environmental changes, community elders made a collective decision to displace Carteret Islanders to save them from rising seas and coastal erosion that was flooding their homes, destroying their food crops, and polluting their waters

Families who have remained on the island rely on food ration from the government every quarter to supplement their local diet of coconuts and fish.

“It was our own initiative to relocate families to Bougainville because of our chiefs and elders of Cateret could not stand the younger children going without food and not attending school well because of the lack of food and the nutrition. They were surviving only on fish and dry coconut. When this is finish the people go hungry and the government can only support us with food ration every quarter. This supply of rice only lasts for two weeks.”

“We have also lost all our wells because they have become too salty and we can’t drink from those anymore. It becomes, hard for us because sea water seeps through the island and destroys our food gardens. Secondly, we have high king tides and saltwater flows on to the food gardens and kills whatever food crops and vegetables we have in our gardens. Therefore, it leaves the more disadvantaged groups like women, children, people living with disability, the elderly and widows. This calls for urgent attention from the respective governments,” said Rakova.

A frustrated Rakova said both Bougainville and the national government to Papua New Guinea “are ignorant of the sufferings of the people of Carteret Island”.

“In 2007, the PNG Government gave the Bougainville Government K2 million which is AUD$140,000 for the Cateret relocation programme. We have not seen any of this money we don’t know where it has gone to. No one has done an audit on the funds and we have not seen a report on where the money was spent,” said Rakova.

Tulele Peisa, which means ‘sailing the waves on our own’ is a community driven relocation programme and Rakova believes lessons learned from previous successes and failures – can inform other relocation efforts of displaced communities in the Pacific and beyond.

Rakova said the organisation has shared its knowledge and experiences with the Ahus and Wuvulu communities in Manus Province, Papua New Guinea as well as with the Newtok community in Alaska.  It has also hosted 24 international media groups that have publicised and amplified their story of struggle, vulnerability, and survival, thus raising awareness around the world of the tangible and immediate effects of climate change on island communities.

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