Students from Levuka showcasing their artwork created for the Poster Competition (Photo: UNDP/Joeli Uluinayau)

It’s been 23 years since I last set foot on Ovalau, a lush volcanic island separated by a 20km wide channel from Viti Levu, Fiji’s mainland. Ovalau is the sixth largest island in Fiji and the main island of the Lomaiviti Province.  We got off the sturdy “Spirit of Love” vessel after a 40-minute boat ride from Natovi Jetty on Viti Levu. As we arrived in Fiji’s first capital, Levuka located on Ovalau Island, I can’t help wondering how much little has changed.

It was getting dark, so we quickly drove along the dirt gravel road to look for our accommodation and in an instant, I am strolling down memory lane. My last visit to Levuka as a teenager was for a national high school netball tournament in 1996. Levuka, as it stands today is almost the same as it was during the colonial days – a town with untouched beauty, genuine generosity and smiles. Her people are free of the hassles of city life, high rise buildings, the breeding frenzy of the Priuses, the crazy traffic and the accompanying cursing. 

Levuka has withstood the test of time; placed in the era of old when “Fiji was the way the world should be.” But in terms of development, the town is just the way it was, and this can be attributed to the fact that it is a World Heritage Site. Levuka has hardly changed for over 100 years and the community remains resilience to modern influences. It still keeps her colonial character and narrow winding graveled roads, yet still moving with the rest of the world albeit at a leisurely pace. She, however, was not spared the impact of Category 5 Tropical Cyclone (TC) Winston that hit Fiji in February 2016, and had been facing the full force of natural disasters and climatic hazards of years past. Three years after TC Winston, communities continue to rebuild their homes and signs of an upcoming seawall can be seen in the village of Tokou, which was severely battered.

According to the World Bank Climate Disaster and Resilience Report, tropical cyclones will continue to increase in intensity. Pacific Island Countries (PICs) due to geographical remoteness and isolation are exposed and most vulnerable to the disastrous impact of natural hazards, including cyclones, floods, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. These hazards are further exacerbated by climate change and will have an adverse effect on PICs livelihood, health, infrastructure and standard of living.

Fiji's WMD Celebration in Levuka: "The Sun, the Earth and the Weather"

As we prepared for Fiji’s World Meteorology Day (WMD) celebrations on Thursday 22 March, the images of post disaster Tokou was a reminder of the critical role and contribution of the National Meteorology and Hydrology Services (NMHS) in the region to ensure safety and well-being of all citizens from adverse effects of the weather.

Many travelled from around Fiji to join residents of Fiji’s UNESCO World Heritage Site for the celebrations. Levuka town was a hype of activity as we waited for the celebratory march to commence from the one street town to Nasau Park. Excited children shared jokes and giggled amongst themselves whilst showing off their posters designed for the poster competition. Market vendors and shop owners cheered the children on as they passed by and zoomed in on potential shoppers or customers either looking for fresh produce or for the local pub. These are the very businesses, women, children that are badly affected when a disaster befalls Levuka and rely on efficient dissemination of early warning forecast to prepare for the impact of a disaster.

But on this particular day, Mother Nature was in sync, somehow it seemed that everyone was advocating for her, the sun was out, the sea showed off her rich blue outfit and birds in flight lead the procession. Everyone was happy.

The Chief guest at the celebration, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Disaster Management and Meteorological Services Hon. Jone Usamate, in his opening address said “Understanding current weather conditions and revisiting and analysing accurate climate data of a specific area collated over a period of time informs and helps in the risks analysis of various sectors in planning, developing policies, structural engineering and decision makers. Long term, historical information and climate data allows NMHS in the region to plot potential tropical cyclones likely to occur, intensity and frequency. This strengthens resilience for communities to prepare for natural disasters.”  

Usamate added “Fiji was one of the first countries to ratify the Paris Agreement, in addition to these mitigation commitments, it is essential to strengthen climate change adaptation by investing in disaster early warning systems, as well as climate services tools such as drought, flood and health management systems.”

A total of 12 schools took part in the various competitions and all brilliantly displayed eloquent public speaking and artistic skills for the theme “Climate Change is not Natural.” 

Delivering his speech for the oratory contest, Malale Qaqacava shared his fears “My village Tokou and school were severely damaged during TC Winston. Scientists predict islands will drown due to climate change, my poor village will drown first. We can work together to stop climate change.”

Usamate added the Government of Fiji has pledged to this commitment, “By 2030, 100 percent of electricity will be from renewable sources, promising to cut overall emissions from its energy sector by 30 percent.”

Schools in Ovalau participated in the celebratory march, poster competition, oratory competition and impromptu speech competition. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Disaster Resilience in the Pacific SIDS (RESPAC) project donated prizes including a bundled package of a Printer, HP Laptop and bag to three winners;

  1. First prize winner for Poster Competition was awarded to Levuka Public Secondary School
  2. First prize winner for Oratory competition was awarded to Bureta District School
  3. Frist Prize winner for Impromptu Speech was awarded to Levuka Public School. 

In addition to the competition prizes, RESPAC distributed merchandise such as umbrellas, USBs, note books, posters and information material. The team also highlighted the work of RESPAC supporting and building the capacity of the NMHS in the Pacific region. 

About RESPAC Project

The RESPAC project funded by the Russian Federation supports Fiji Meteorology Services and NMHS in the region to build a platform in which the science of accumulating and analysing climate data can be better understood by Met offices and by all users.  A crucial component of the work involves the collation and recording of quality climate data that can then be packaged as information to help communities prepare for disaster.  Helping coastal communities like Levuka, vulnerable to storm surges and sea level rise.

RESPAC has supported FMS in both operational and technical development. Prior to RESPAC intervention 14 out of its 22 Automated Weather Stations were damaged by cyclone Winston in 2016, RESPAC in partnership with National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) provided on the job training for 19 technicians and repaired 14 AWS. In 2018, Meteorology officers from Kiribati, Tonga and one from FMS studied at Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), Melbourne, Australia funded by RESPAC. This year two more FMS staff are currently studying in BOM.

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