Children jumping into the sea at the wharf on Savave islet, Nukufetau (1)

Pacific Island countries, like many small island developing states, face a complex set of issues related to human mobility (forced displacement, voluntary migration, and planned relocation) and disasters. The Pacific Islands are regularly affected by severe windstorms, cyclones, flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Even more important, however, is the threat climate change impacts such as rising sea levels and increasing sea temperatures pose to Pacific Island countries.

Pacific Regional Consultation

Children's Day, Nukufetau

This background paper has been drafted to inform the Nansen Initiative regional consultation “Human Mobility, Natural Disasters and Climate Change in the Pacific” held from 21-24 May 2013 on Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

The Pacific Islands include 23 countries and territories comprised of thousands of islands spread across a vast geographic territory. An estimated 10 million people inhabit some 300 islands. Of these, 6.9 million people live in Papua New Guinea. Despite their small populations, the islands are culturally rich and socially diverse, with land in particular often governed according to distinct customary systems.

The need for cultural preservation in the face of climate change and human mobility is a recurring theme in the Pacific Islands. The notion of culture is complex. Cultures constantly evolve and encompass a wide variety of elements, including language, religion, food, architecture, livelihood practices, clothing, art, music, storytelling, etc. In the Pacific region, land is of particular cultural importance. According to one author, “land holds life together and holds meaning, land equals identity.” Most Pacific Island land is regulated by a variety of customary regimes. Similarly, the concept of land in the Pacific Islands is extremely heterogeneous, and defies any general description. Notions of family kinship, cultural identity, and clans are closely linked to ancestral land, and for some, land cannot be detached from those who ‘belong’ to it. At the same time, through their long history of migration, Pacific Islanders also have a “cultural identity as great travelers, inheritors of their ancestors’ remarkable achievements in navigating, sailing and settling throughout islands of the expansive Pacific Ocean.”

Participants from 10 Pacific countries, other countries, as well as representatives from regional and international organizations, civil society, and academia, met in Rarotonga from 21 to 24 May 2013 for a consultation on “Human Mobility, Natural Disasters and Climate Change in the Pacific.” They welcomed the Nansen Initiative. This Initiative is a state-led, bottom-up consultative process intended to build consensus on a protection agenda addressing the needs of people displaced across international borders in the context of natural disasters, as well as the effects of climate change. Participants reaffirmed the 2008 Niue Declaration on Climate Change, in which Pacific Leaders emphasise “the importance of retaining the Pacific’s social and cultural identity, and the desire of the Pacific peoples to continue to live in their own countries, where possible.” The participants stressed that having to leave one’s own country is the least preferred option. Participants expressed concern that cross-border relocation may negatively impact on nationhood, control over land and sea territory, sovereignty, culture and livelihoods. Participants stressed the importance of climate change mitigation and adaption measures to prevent displacement and avoid the need for relocation. Planning within the region for population movement must be seen as complementary to these efforts. Participants expressed concern that effects of climate change and recurrent natural disasters in the Pacific region increasingly trigger population movements.

Cyclones, flooding, landslides, tsunamis, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions cause the displacement of communities. Already, coastal erosion and the salinisation of fresh water sources and agricultural land associated with sea level rise prompt people to move to safer places or even make the planned relocation of whole villages necessary. In this context, the identification of suitable land to relocate communities at risk of exposure to natural disasters, or whose land has been rendered uninhabitable, is a particular challenge.

This report summarizes the outcomes (Part I) and technical discussions (Part II) of the first Nansen Initiative Regional Consultation that took place from 21-24 May 2013 on Rarotonga, Cook Islands: “Human Mobility, Natural Disasters and Climate Change in the Pacific”. The overall objective of the Pacific Consultation was to identify specific challenges facing the Pacific region related to human mobility and natural disasters, and to develop concrete, practical, policy and programmatic outcomes in response to these challenges. The technical workshop (21-23 May) and a session with a governmental panel (24 May) brought together more than 70 representatives from 10 Pacific countries (including the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Australia), countries beyond the Pacific region, international organizations, international experts, NGOs, civil society and faith-based organizations.

Participants presented the conclusions from the technical workshop in the form of an outcome document to a governmental panel on the last day of the Consultation. The outcome document contains conclusions and recommendations that require actions at community, national, regional and international levels (Chapter II.2). A summary of the panel discussion can be found in Chapter II.3. Members of the governmental panel welcomed the conclusions and expressed their commitment to bring them to a higher political level in order to enhance regional and international efforts to address the needs and challenges associated with human mobility in the context of natural disasters, as well as the effects of climate change.

CLUSTERS AND HUBS: TOWARD A REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE FOR VOLUNTARY ADAPTIVE MIGRATION IN THE PACIFIC

Bruce Burson and Richard Bedford

Pacific peoples have had to contend with and adapt to a multiplicity of disruptive and destructive geological and extreme weather events for centuries. While temporary internal migration and displacement have featured as a response to the events in many instances, the current concern about the effects of climate change in the region has generated discussion about the extent to which future disasters or slow‑onset environmental degradation will lead to increased cross‑border mobility or displacement. This research was commissioned to follow up on recommendations from the Nansen Initiative’s Pacific Regional Consultation held in May 2013 which concluded that, while having to leave one’s country was the least preferred option for Pacific peoples, cross‑border mobility in the context of natural disasters and environmental degradation was a reality in the Pacific region which demanded that states begin to plan for movement now. It was recognized that voluntary migration abroad was only one way, within a set of broader policy options, to prevent future displacement and adapt to climate change.

DISASTER RELATED HUMAN MOBILITY WITHIN RELEVANT PACIFIC REGIONAL LAWS, POLICIES AND FRAMEWORKS

A. Gero, Institute for Sustainable Futures,University of Technology, Sydney

As small island states in a vast ocean, Pacific Island Countries (PICs) are highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including extreme weather events, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. There is mounting evidence that climate change is altering the patterns of weather‑related disasters globally, including slow onset events like droughts, sea level rise and rapid onset events like tropical cyclones, flooding and severe storms (IPCC, 2012; IPCC, 2013; Knutson et al., 2010). The direct and indirect impacts of climate change, coupled with ongoing development challenges, are becoming increasingly visible in particular parts of the Pacific region today.

LAND AND HUMAN MOBILITY IN THE PACIFIC: THE EFFECTS OF NATURAL DISASTERS

Prof. Daniel Fitzpatrick, ANU College of Law, Australian National University

This report is a further output of the Pacific Regional Consultation. The consultation outcomes identified land issues as a key challenge for measures to address disaster‑related human mobility in the Pacific.

The outcomes document recommended actions to ensure, in circumstances of displacement or relocation:
• adequate mechanisms and/or safeguards to prevent and solve conflicts over land and resources due to factors such as cultural diversity or population growth.
• measures such as land audits, demarcation of uncontested boundaries and community land mapping to facilitate the identification of land.

PACIFIC DIASPORA: MOBILITY, TRANSNATIONALISM, AND IDENTITY OF TUVALU

Mariko Yoshida

Based on diverse dynamics of motivations, a large number of the Pacific Islanders have formed diasporic communities in metropolitan countries beyond boundaries. Transnational migration is not a new phenomenon among them as these practices with the continuous flow of remittances have been central to the socioeconomic development of Pacific microstates since the post-colonial era. This paper explores the questions of the impact of transnational migration of the Pacific Islanders and their maintenance of cultural values through their community activities. The findings I present here are based on qualitative analysis of transnational migration among the several Tuvaluan immigrant communities in Auckland, New Zealand. The Pacific diasporic islanders maintain their strong links to their homelands in multiple and complex ways, and the forms of mobility and transnationalism continue to shape their lives.

Photos of the Consultation
See also
Pacific Civil Society Consultation

Pacific Civil Society Consultation

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Video Summary of the Consultation
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