WATER FROM ABOVE AND BELOW
Nadi, Fiji. 9 April 2016.
One look at the house is all it takes. Something is seriously amiss.
Sodden wall boards hang loose from the water-soaked frame. The floorboards, recently lifted, dried and replaced as part of clean-up efforts, are bowed and soft, noticeably stretching underfoot. Pigs, ducks and small children roam amongst a thick layer of wet, slippery mud, left behind when the nearby river burst its banks.
Iva and her brothers Livai (11) and Kittione (9) are doing their best to clean up their three-bedroom home after Nadi’s sudden and catastrophic floods, but their efforts have a feeling of futility about them.
“Twenty members of our family live here, including six children,” explains Iva, “but the floods keep coming. The house sits on reclaimed swamp land and the river floods at least a few times a year. When a big flood comes, it covers the roof of our home. Every time we clean up and start again — but they keep happening.”
Iva and her family sought shelter with a neighbour whose house sits just a few metres higher than theirs during the recent flooding. The adult pigs were moved to a nearby hill and the smallest piglet came inside with the family, protected from the rapidly-rising waters. Livai points out a brown water mark on the walls of the house interior, a permanent reminder of how the muddy water suddenly rose more than two metres, completely flooding their home.
Iva’s fatigue is apparent as she explains that they also lost the roof of one bedroom less than six weeks earlier, to Category 5 Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm in Fiji’s history. The storm also killed some of their chickens, livestock that the family depends on as a vital source of income. “In the cyclone the water came from above, and now in these floods it’s come from below.”
“The adults and the children keep getting sick — we’ve all had pink eye (conjunctivitis) and diarrhoea from the water supply, which is still contaminated.”
After the cyclone the family managed to salvage the tin from their roof, temporarily holding it in place with concrete blocks. And, once again, they are cleaning up after massive flooding, but a more permanent solution is needed.
“We want to get out of here” says Iva as she surveys the mud and silt coating the yard. “We want to build two new houses on stilts high above the flood waters to accommodate our big family — we’ve made a start but finishing them takes a lot of money.”
“New houses would mean no more floods affecting everything — and would mean we could settle and stop moving our family around when things get disrupted. It’s strange to say but it’s now normal for us to be flooded.”
By Alice Clements, UNICEF Pacific