2021 World Humanitarian Day: Where do we go?

“OUR island is smaller now than it was before. The soil isn’t fertile like it used to be, we can’t grow anything here,” remembers Sipora Nargara. Life on Aromot Island was good, it isn’t the same today.

Sipora is one of more than 1,800 people living on Aromot Island - a tiny rise of land off the coast of Umbol Island in the Vitiaz Strait of Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea.

The island is shrinking, due to rising sea levels, caused by climate change. She knows they will need to resettle elsewhere and did try to leave once. But many have returned to their small island homes.

There is no fish

“We are islanders. We live on fish, and there is no fish where they wanted us to resettle. We’re not used to life there.”

Across the waters in Milne Bay, Councillor for Budibudi, Essie Awauwa is mulling whether to relocate his community - due to fresh water and land issues from rising sea levels.

“The advantage to resettling is having enough land for my people, good soil to grow food crops, and higher ground to keep us safe,” he notes. He also knows that finding a place may mean land conflicts with customary landowners.

According to Milne Bay Provincial Disaster Coordinator, Steven Tobessa the province has over 600 small islands and atolls. Just 149 are inhabited, by 200,000 people. He anticipates relocations and looks to Bougainville for what to expect. The residents of the Carteret Islands in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville are among the first in the world to be relocated due to climate change.

Church provided 85 hectares

Efforts have been made, since the 1980s, to relocate residents from the Carterets, but families kept returning. Now the population is larger than ever before, despite inability to grow crops or to access fresh water. From 2009 to 2011, ten families did successfully relocate to Tinputz, on the main island of Bougainville, where the church provided 85 hectares to settle up to 35 families.

Rose Salei is one such young woman from the Carterets who now lives in Tinputz. “We have learnt the customs of the locals,” she says, and now they are used to them.

“For example, if there is a death, we follow the locals. We know how to prepare the food to take. And not just for deaths, we now know what is expected for initiation ceremonies and other big events here.”

One strategy being promoted is marriage with locals to integrate into the community and avoid issues with customary landowners as they become part of the clan. “If we get married amongst ourselves,” Rosie explained, “the community here in Tinputz might send us back to the Carterets”.

“That’s why the young people from the islands who relocate here have made the wise decision to marry into Tinputz.”

Home is where ancestors are buried

But “home” is where their kin live, where their ancestors are buried, and where their culture remains. They risk losing a bit of their identity, heritage, and language to survive.

Provincial disaster coordinators interviewed in Bougainville, Milne Bay, and Morobe provinces all echoed the same sentiment: We must work in solidarity to mitigate and reverse the effects of climate change.

In 2009, the world’s richest governments agreed to increase climate-related finance for vulnerable countries to $100 billion annually by 2020. Under the Paris Agreement, they pledged to negotiate a yet-higher amount that would begin from 2025.

Bai Yumi Go We

Bai Yumi Go We (Where do We Go?) takes us into the lives of these islander communities in Papua New Guinea. In early August, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) travelled to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, as well as Morobe and Milne Bay provinces to film the urgent reality of why developed countries need to deliver on their $100 billion commitment ahead of COP26, the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, on 1 November.

Meanwhile, back in Bougainville, the Bougainville House of Representative’s Member for Tinputz, Morris Opeti explains “a lot of organizations and people come to visit the people of Carterets to collect stories, but they haven’t been bringing anything. Where is the funding, the services we need? The Islanders are suffering, they need help.”

On 19 August, World Humanitarian Day will focus global attention on the humanitarian needs of the world’s most vulnerable who are affected by this climate crisis. Watch Bai Yumi Go We on UNDP in Papua New Guinea YouTube channel and social media.

‘Bai Yumi go we nau?’ (Where Do We Go Now?) highlights the real impacts of climate change for displaced communities in Bougainville, and Morobe and Milne Bay Provinces of Papua New Guinea. This documentary was released on 19 August in recognition of World Humanitarian Day (WHD). This year’s theme is the humanitarian impacts of the climate emergency on the most vulnerable.