“I WILL NOT LEAVE MY ISLAND HOME, EVEN IF ONLY THREE COCONUT TREES REMAIN”
I know my island home will vanish one day because of climate change – I will be landless and homeless! My name is Agnes Kinaka. I’m 36 years old. I am a single mother with 4 children. I belong to the Halia speaking people of Carterets Islands from Papua New Guinea who are amongst the world’s first environmental migrants.
Our island are part of us. For a thousand years these islands provided for our ancestors and us. They provided us food, our homes, our way of life. But our islands are rapidly disappearing and no longer safe. As a matrilineal community I should be able to provide my children with a future that comes from their inherited, communal right to our islands.
In the past 10 years, as the sea water rose and huge tidal waves began to ravage our islands, hundreds of us living on the islands experienced the terror of environmental devastation. We could no longer bring up families there.
One day in 1989 huge waves crushed through my island, breaking the island in two parts. I was terribly scared. I thought God the Creator was punishing us because this was also the beginning of the Bougainville Crisis. I was confused! Huge giant waves went through the island taking with it everything on its part. Plants died. There was no food, no safe drinking water. Women and children had little to eat. When they were sick there was no medication, no shipping, no communication with the outside world because of the Bougainville blockade created by the Government.
As a single mother of four children, I had no choice but to move to Buka, Bougainville where the government had arranged for migrants from the low lying islands to relocate. Today I live with around 70 people from my communities in one of these relocation sites. Moving to Buka and life in the settlement is very, very hard. We have no gardens. Our survival depends on us women doing marketing which does not help much. Back on the island we had our own homes and had privacy. We had the spirit of sharing whatever we had. But here in the Buka settlement, there is nothing to share. When one family goes hungry, everyone is hungry.
We’re now on Buka, we don’t have access to the same diet, we don’t own or control land, we have lost everything we know and depend on. Rufina Moi and elderly woman expressed with emotion that, “She will not leave her beloved home island of the Carterets. This is where she was born, where her roots are, where her ancestors roamed and fished, where life is simple and enjoyable. She called on developed countries to stop the wheels of destruction to save her island.
My people live their lives dependant on and revolving around the sea. The sea determines their diet, their knowledge, their skills. Our loss and damage is generational, irreversible and marks the loss of a culture and way of life.
Bougainville suffered years of resource related war. The war caused generational impact and the people there do not have all the public services needed. Let alone providing for migrants from the atolls. There is high rate of violence against women, infant and maternal mortality.
Our loss is not an accident. We believe our islands have been lost because of climate change and resource extraction. We did not cause the world to warm. We did not over fish, over log or try and become rich. But we’re paying the price for those in the world who did. Together we the women from the community have started to talk about the loss and damage that we have experienced due climate change caused by others. While making resettlement plans, we’re working with our government to formulate a policy that will take into account our needs and those of our children and community.
We want the world to know our stories. We would like to show the world what greed and the need to consume everything is doing to the indigenous peoples of the world. We want justice from the world community. They must promise to stop global warming and there must be a way to make sure governments keep their promises to all people – even those in far away islands. We don’t want other women to suffer the way we did and we want a future for our children and future generations. We must choose ways that will allow everyone in the planet to live in a sustainable way and not destroy whatever resources we have left.