These preliminary lessons have been derived from the views of outside stakeholders involved in facilitating the relocation, not the affected community themselves, which very much warrants further investigation. The original Vunidogoloa village consisted of 26 houses and was located only a few meters from the coast on Vanua Levu in the northern part of the country. Over time, the community became consistently inundated and trapped when heavy rains combined with high tides (Pacific Conference of Churches 2012). Despite the houses being built on stilts, flood waters still reached the ground floors and caused damage each time the village was inundated. Growing and sustaining local community gardens also became increasingly difficult to maintain due to the saltwater intrusions. In an initial attempt to mitigate the saltwater intrusions and protect the community, a seawall was constructed, however, over time this barrier became ineffective.
In 2007, the community approached the Fiji Government (first through the local government offices) for financial assistance to relocate elsewhere. In January 2014, the village finally relocated to a new site within the customary land boundaries of the community. Thirty new homes were built 2 km from the original village site. The community made the decision on where to relocate and designed their new village, which included their desire for neighbors to remain the same.
Relocation is costly—financially, psychologically, and socially. For these reasons, among others, it is often the option of last resort for communities (McNamara and Gibson 2009). For the Fiji Red Cross, this concern was noted in an interview: “It takes time, it takes effort, and it is a very costly activity to do, that is why we have a lot of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation activities that are being implemented in Fiji communities” (Fiji Red Cross interviewee, personal communication, 29 October 2014, Suva, Fiji). As an option of last resort, this position was made clear in an interview with a climate change policy officer, speaking on behalf of the Climate Change Division of the Fiji Government: “When it comes to relocation it’s the last resort for us; we want to be able to do it in a way that is very, very holistic; it’s not about moving houses, it’s about moving lives” (Government Climate Change Division interviewee, personal communication, 30 October 2014, Suva, Fiji).
For Vunidogoloa village, relocation was their option of last resort as a means of sustaining livelihoods in the long-term. As part of the relocation, the earthworks alone cost the Fiji Government around FJ $500,000, which converts to approximately USD 230,000 (Pacific Conference of Churches interviewee, personal communication, 29 October 2014, Suva, Fiji). There were also a number of activities that accompanied the relocation process to ensure the effectiveness of this “initial phase.” The first activity related to the role of the local community in the relocation itself. They provided timber from their customary lands to be used for construction, mainly housing, at the new site to help defray costs (Government Climate Change Division interviewee, personal communication, 30 October 2014, Suva, Fiji). The provision of resources and human capital were essential in contributing to the relocation, and ensuring that community members were very much part of the relocation efforts.
The second activity ensuring the durability of this “initial phase” relocation effort related to the support provided from external organizations to help initiate new industries at the relocated site. For example, the Department of Fisheries provided fish ponds as the community could no longer easily access the ocean for their own subsistence needs and to sell ocean fish produce. This shift to fish ponds is a major livelihood change and one that should be investigated further to identify the effectiveness of such a transition. Also, the International Labour Organization (ILO) offered support, as explained in an interview with a program officer: “The government played a major part; our assistance to them was we provided pineapple tops, banana shoots, as well as the construction of the copra dryer as in-kind support to the crop rehabilitation and livelihood program” (ILO interviewee, personal communication, 30 October 2014, Suva, Fiji). The local community was then tasked with planting the banana and pineapple, which again assisted in transferring ownership to them in terms of developing new livelihood strategies. Again, these shifts in livelihood strategies should be monitored over time to understand their ongoing function and utility in the community.
The third and final activity related to the community’s ability to relocate to land within their customary territory. The community was fortunate to have higher ground to move to within their land boundaries, making it an easier transition. According to the interviewees, this was a key reason for why the relocation, to date, has been considered successful—the village relocated to land owned by the same community and no one in the community contested the use of the new site on which to relocate the village. Because suitable resettlement sites will not always be possible in every relocation case, protocols and mechanisms must be established to facilitate the discussions between the communities that wish to relocate and customary land owners, which might involve some form of compensation.