Caught in Fiji's floodwaters: Betty Barkha's story
Each month the 350.org Pacific team are putting a spotlight on a different Pacific Island nation with stories from organisers on the ground. The 350.org Pacific Stories team is run by Pacific Islanders and seeks to share the voice of Pacific Islanders with the rest of the world. Check out this moving story and experience of one of our star organisers who was caught in the floodwaters in Fiji.
By: Chelsea Rae (Fiji)
In March and April this year, hundreds of people fled sweeping flood waters and raging rivers, for the second time in three months, as torrential downpours and cyclonic winds swept a devastating path across the Fiji islands. It has left thousands reeling in its wake. Families mourn their loved ones, snatched away by the torrents. Men have watched their wives and children wade through waist deep water with nothing but the clothes on their back. Wives and mothers regroup and get on with the task of rebuilding their homes.
Homes and livelihoods have been lost and, four weeks on, little has been recovered. Schools were closed for almost two weeks and in some cases longer, due to their use as evacuation centers. Power outages and severe water disruptions continue to have the medical authorities on high alert, with media health warnings being on high rotation. Graphic images have impacted the world and brought forth much appreciated aide. Although some sense of normalcy has been regained, the cleanup campaign continues.
Fiji is a nation built on the firm foundations of ‘brotherhood’ and loyalty; a passionate people who are empathetic and protective. Whether it is sports or tragedy, Fijians are united. It is the Fijian way and together we are working to rebuild
350 Pacific’s, Betty Barkha experienced the ordeal firsthand. Having being born and raised in the Western division of Viti Levu, where the floods were the most devastating, she is more fervent about the welfare of her people now, then she was a year ago. While displaced families occupied evacuation centers, this young woman and her family spent much of their time out in the receding waters. They d id the best they could with what little they had for their friends and their families.
“I have seen a glimpse of how climate change can ruin lives of many innocent people in the recent floods which inundated my home country of Fiji. Homes have been destroyed; even homes that weren’t even close to the sea or rivers were completely covered by flood waters. For many people there was nothing to return to. After the floods hit Fiji in March-April, my family and I took up flood relief work. It was so sad to see families crying in evacuation centers, sharing stories with each other of how they had no time to get essentials, or save their valuables… to see them talk so calmly yet whole heartedly about how their life would never be the same”
Climate change was not something she was taught about in primary school. It is a subject though she has gained a lot of familiarity with over the years through such experiences that beckon her to question and to connect the dots. Perhaps this flood itself is not as a result of climate change but, it is hard to ignore the intensity and frequency with which natural disasters are becoming prevalent. These are in line with predictions from the climate change models.
Betty is hopeful that despite the predictions and the cruel reality on the ground we will yet find a way to reduce emissions to avoid reversible climate change. She admits that Climate Change isn’t exactly a hot button subject amongst most of her peers. When asked about her frustrations regarding this climate change she said
“It’s … hard to get some organizations and groups of people to understand that climate change affects everyone. It hurts to see that because they aren’t affected directly, they choose not to be involved … What is most frustrating is when people think that advocating and doing something for climate change is a waste of time”
It really should not take the loss of homes, jobs and lives for people to realize that Climate Change is as real as an issue as poverty or disease, Betty reiterates. She is hopeful that a united Pacific stance on climate change will materialize that pushes for reduction of emissions and a low carbon energy future. Stewardship is an important lesson she feels.
Betty not only has Climate Change advocacy at heart but her recent experiences have enabled her to share her knowledge with others, introduce them to her work with 350.org and explain climate science to her community. As a result of Betty’s advocacy, a community in Lautoka has taken a stand. Earth hour has become a ‘daily’ practice. For an hour or more each night, power is shut down, candles are lit up and ‘family time’ takes on a whole new meaning. Tales are told, guitars are strummed and songs are sung. Indoors the shadows dance on the walls and outside the stars seem brighter. The novelty of this practice is exciting and contagious. This is not a phenomenon, it is a conviction. As this practice becomes more widespread and climate awareness intensifies, Betty’s hopes for her people and nation could become a reality…
“I hope that our land will still be there and our people will always have home...for those near the coast… and for those in the highlands”
For Betty and others like her who aren’t afraid to make a stand for her home and her people, the task may seem daunting but it’s not impossible. Her memories will never fade and will serve to strengthen her commitment in this fight against Climate Change inaction and for intergenerational equity.
This is her story!