Friday 16 March 2012, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Nukualofa, Tonga –
How exactly will climate change impact the lives of people living on small islands and what can be done to adapt to those impacts? On Lifuka Island in Tonga’s Ha’apai group, a project to find answers to this question is underway. The answer could help people around the Pacific and the world prepare for, and adapt to, climate change.
The project is part of the Pacific Adaptation Strategy Assistance Program (PASAP) and aims to assess the vulnerability and adaptation to sea level rise in Lifuka. It is being run by the Government of Tonga with the assistance of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Tonga Community Development Trust (TCDT).
Fuka Kitekei’aho, National Coordinator for PASAP, said that Lifuka was chosen because it had already experienced sea level rise as a result of an earthquake in May 2006.
“The earthquake measured approximately 7.9 on the Richter scale and resulted in subsidence of 23 cm of the western side of Lifuka Island,” Mr Kitekei’aho said. “In the past four years, the island has experienced significant coastal erosion over a three kilometre section of the coastline, including where the harbour, homes, and hospital are located.”
“What we learn from sea level rise caused by the earthquake will help us and others better adapt to changes in sea level from climate change.”
Rising sea levels over the coming decades could cause further damage and impact health, food supplies and water security. PASAP is looking at developing an adaptation strategy to predicted sea level rise and other climate change impacts.
“Any strategy to adapt to climate change should be based on scientific evidence about coastal and environmental processes and the needs and priorities of the people,” Mr Kitekei’aho said. “We’ve already started gathering geological data, things like identifying key problem areas, surveying areas that are prone to flooding and looking at the state of the ground water on the island.”
Emeli Esau from TCDT has been conducting community consultations in Lifuka over the last two weeks. She says that any strategy to adapt to climate change must have community involvement and ownership to be successful and sustainable.
“Once we know what the impacts of climate change could be, we will need to work with the communities to see what strategies they think are appropriate to deal with them,” Ms Esau said. “We need to learn what they value, how the changes impact them socially and economically, and what adaptation options they think are the most valuable.”
“At the end of this project there should be people on the island with the skills and basic equipment necessary to conduct their own vulnerability assessments and make their own decisions on how to adapt sea level rise,” Ms Esau said.
Over the next two weeks a team from SPC will be in Lifuka to conduct household surveys.
“They’ll be looking at things like where people get their drinking water from and whether this has changed because of salt water inundation, how they use their water and how much they use,” Mr Kitekei’aho said. “We want to find out how natural disasters, coastal flooding and erosion have affected families, and how they are coping with these changes.”
Dr Jimmie Rodgers, SPC Director-General, said that the project was one of the first of its kind in the Pacific and that the lessons learned will be valuable for all countries.
“The Pacific is at the forefront of how climate change could affect the planet; what we learn here and how our communities adapt to climate change will inform approaches to this problem both regionally and globally,” Dr Rodgers said. “SPC is fortunate to have the capacity to undertake not only the technical geoscience surveys that are necessary to understand the physical changes taking place but also, through our Human Development Programme, the capacity to analyse the ways communities and societies will adapt according to their own values and priorities.”
PASAP’s work in Lifuka is a Government of Tonga project, led by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Management and implementation support is provided by SPC’s Human Development Programme and Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (SOPAC). TCDT is working with communities on the ground in Lifuka and running community consultations.
PASAP is an Australian Government funded programme which aims to enhance country capacity to assess vulnerability to climate change and develop evidence-based adaptation strategies in partner countries in the Pacific and East Timor.
For more information, contact:
Mr Fuka Kitekei’aho, National Coordinator PASAP Tonga. Phone: (+676) 775 3087; email:
Tiy Chung, SOPAC Communications Advisor (in Fiji). Phone (+679) 998 7586; email:
Alisi Tuqa (in Noumea for Dr Jimmie Rodgers), mobile: (+687) 805 621; email: