The Carteret Islands got uninhabitable due to sea level rise. A local grassroots movement organises the relocation of the entire island group. Land and financial resources must be acquired and good relations are prepared with host communities. Despite of a large media coverage about the faith of Carteret Islanders, little external help was received to assist relocation plans.
Why Carteret Islands need to be relocated
The Carteret Islands is a group of small low-lying atolls 86 km northeast of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. They are only about 1 m above sea level. Laying in a tectonically unstable region Carteret is subsiding steadily. Storms caused erosion of land and saltwater intrusion in the soil so that the islanders were unable to feed themselves. Boats with food came two or three times a year. But on long term, it was not bearable that people could survive only by external aid.
Government’s incapacity to organize appropriate relocations
In the 1980s, the government of Papua New Guinea decided, that the 300 families of the Carteret Islands and three nearby islands need to be resettled to the neighbouring Bougainville. By 1984, 10 families were resettled. But the conditions for these families were very unfamiliar. People who used to live from fishing found themselves in land-locked locations in the middle of the bush far from the sea. They felt adrift because traditional marine skills were little help in subsistence gardening of unfamiliar crops. Children had to walk 6 km to school which are incredible long distances for people how used to live on small atolls. After this cultural shock, two families decided to go back to their home atolls (Campbell, 2012).
Tulele Peisa – ‘Sailing the waves on our own’
In 1989, the civil war on Bougainville break out, so that all resettlement initiatives came to halt. People were not willing to move to a place in civil chaos. National government funds returned unspent to the central government. Erosion on the islands got worse, so that islanders could not wait any more to plan the resettlement. After a period of frustrating inaction the Carteret Council of Elders founded in 2006, the local NGO ‘Tulele Peisa’. The name ‘Tulele Peisa’ means ‘Sailing the waves on our own’ and reflects the desire to find an independent self-determined solution for resettlement plans (Rakova, 2009). The grassroots’ organisation filled the gap of institutions which were incapable to take actions.
Resources for relocations
A social mapping of the communities begun to collect data about the needs of all families. Four facilitators were engaged to provide training for sustainable livelihood. Workshops about climate change were hold to raise the awareness of islanders. A task force committee developed a 14 step plan for resettlement of 50 % of the island’s population by 2020. (Ferris, 2011) To avoid resettling in a precarious situation, it was defined that each family required 5 ha land: 1 ha for housing and personal gardens, 3 ha for livelihood for farming cash crops, 1 ha for reforestation (Displacement Solutions, 2008).
It was calculated that a sum of US$ 5.3 million is required for the period 2009 to 2019 to ensure the basic needs for a successful resettlement. Since the islanders do not have this money they depend on the government and international aid for the project. $ 800,000 was provided by the Papua New Guinea government. For further funding the organisation needs donations from private donors or international organisations.
The challenge is to find land, housing and livelihood for the uprooted people which allow them to continue their lifestyle of subsistence agriculture. Obtaining clear titles for land is very difficult because of competing claims of traditional owners, the government, the formal title holder and the land user. 96% of the land on Bougainville is subject to claims by customary landowners. There is no political will to buy land or expropriate land owners. Only 80 ha has been provided by the Roman Catholic Church which allowed some families to settle to this place.
Avoiding ethnical conflicts with host population
Tulele Peisa is conscious that the host communities must be integrated in the resettlement plan. The NGO tries to establish good relations with the existing communities by exchange programs of chiefs, women and children from Carteret and the host communities (Tulele Peisa, 2008). Ceremonial acts like the exchange of traditional shell money were carried out. Marriages between Carteret Islanders and Bougainvilians are promoted. But Tulele Peisa aims also to maintain the cultural bonds to the islands of origin. Relocated islander remain clan members. Regular sea transport services for passengers and freight should guarantee the connection to remaining islands. (Rakova, 2009)
Much media attention – Little help
Many filmmakers and radio stations told the world the Carteret story. The documentary “Sun Come Up” about the Carteret Island was Oscar nominated in 2011. The Carteret islanders toured through Australia and participated at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali in December 2007. The Carteret Islands got the icons for climate change refugees. But media attention did not yet turn into practical assistance to relocation plans (Tulele Peisa, 2008). Since 2010 the Carteret Islanders decided not to accept any more visits by journalists, tourists or researchers on their atoll.
© 2014 Heike Huntebrinker. All rights reserved.