OPINION: My social media news feed has been flooded with devastating images of cyclone Gita in the Pacific. Beautiful and recently refurbished businesses, now buried beneath debris and water. Family homes once filled with food and warmth, now torn apart. Plantations once gleaming with sweat and livelihood, now bare. This is the reality of climate change. Despite arguably being the lowest contributors to this issue, countries in the Pacific have long suffered the severe impacts of climate change. In fact, it was a cyclone that brought my family and I from Samoa to New Zealand many years ago.
I was only a couple of months old when cyclone Val hit. To this day, it has been considered one of the worst tropical cyclones to ever hit Samoa. My parents, siblings and I were living in Sataua Savaii at the time. We were well settled. My brother and sister were attending school and I spent most of my days lying on a mat with a beachfront view and a cool breeze blowing my bald baby head. Our house was built on two levels. We lived on the top level and my parents ran my father's family shop on the bottom level.
We had a good, peaceful life.
Until the storms came.
My parents received a warning through the radio about severe winds but were relatively naïve to the devastation that was to follow. They had survived cyclone Ofa the year earlier and thought that perhaps Val would not be so cruel. As soon as my mother realized that the eye of the cyclone would be lurking over our village, she immediately took my siblings and I to the Catholic Church where we hid behind the wooden pews. The Catholic Church became the common refuge for most villagers because it was one of the sturdiest buildings in the entire district. Inside the stained glass sanctuary, my mother recalls hearing gentle, eerie humming drifting lightly above the burly bellows of the wind. It was the sound of strangers from various religious denominations gathering together, quietly praying and singing as the building shook and windows shattered all around them.
The cyclone lasted five days and we lost absolutely everything. Our entire home was destroyed, including the shop. We had no food or clean running water and 16 people lost their lives as a result. Soon after cyclone Val, my parents made the decision to move to New Zealand. It's unsettling to note that the environmental issues, which led me to New Zealand all those years ago, are still prevalent today.
Even from as early as the 1980's, countries in the Pacific have been working tirelessly to respond to the escalating realities of climate change, including the impact on the economy, land, food, water and infrastructure. Devastatingly, for smaller low-lying countries such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tokelau, the very existence of these communities is already in serious jeopardy. Children, families and communities in the Pacific are continuously rebuilding their homes, schools, businesses, churches and lives after every disaster; cyclone Gita is no exception. The need to address this crisis has never been more urgent.
To support victims of cyclone Gita, please contact Red Cross.
To learn more about how you can take action against climate change, please visit: www.350Pacific.org