Monday, January 26, 2009

Relocating Labasa and other towns?

from w
I read this today about the need to have long-term planning because the floods come so often, disrupting life and causing such damage. Or build houses and shops two-storey, or houses on stilts. Regarding Labasa, the town area is so low, most of it once was swampy. Mew buildings just have to be on higher ground, e.g. the hospital side of town.

Talking about relocationTuesday, January 27, 2009
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State of our estuary townsThe towns to have experienced flood in Fiji are Labasa, Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba, Nadi, Sigatoka , Navua and Nausori. Most estuary towns of Fiji are located at very low altitude with some at almost sea level which are subject to severe flooding. Flooding was not seen as a problem of these towns fifty years ago but with climatic changes such as sea level rise, Fiji's estuary towns are a real threat to unprecedented flooding.

Poor urban planning and land - use have compounded this problem further. Rural - urban drift may have brought prosperity for some but one flood can entirely devastate ones dream. The notion of "from highland to lowland" has not really worked for many. Drains are today heavily blocked by household and industrial refuse. So flooding cannot really be avoided if people do not change their attitude towards the environment.

During the 2007 flood, calls were made by Labasa and Nadi municipal councils to dredge rivers. There were calls put forward by professor Nunn that dredging of rivers will not free the estuary towns from the dangers of floods. I had also written that dredging is only a temporary measure.

Municipal councils went ahead and had the river mouth dredged. I wonder how much money was really wasted by municipal councils to have the Labasa and Nadi rivers dredged. If dredging was to have solved the flooding problem, then what went wrong? The simple answer to this is that dredging will not make a town safe from flooding.

Long term solutions

The most practical and permanent solution is to relocate estuary towns if the risks of flooding are to be overcome. Many towns in Fiji were built in river lowlands and delta areas which, today, are causing millions of dollars of loss and damage from the impact of flooding. Estuary towns of Fiji need to be relocated to higher and safer locations to avoid the problem of flooding. This is long-term planning which municipal authorities should seriously consider without delay.

The development of small growth centres in safe locations, away from rivers, can be a start to the relocation of towns. For example Namaka could be the ideal location for the new Nadi town.

Tuatua and neighbouring upper Wailevu in Labasa is the ideal choice for Labasa town. Varadoli, Yalalevu or Nailega in Ba could become growth centres.The woes of flooding of towns will then be a thing of the past. Millions of dollars in losses over the years because of floods will be saved. Property value will improve, investment will increase and benefits will be forthcoming.

The process of relocation must start immediately. The State must play an active role in this process. Failing this, estuary towns in Fiji will continue to suffer severely from flooding.

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Relocating villages which are in flood prone areas is an important task of the DISMAC. If the relocation exercise had been properly conducted, in the past five years, many villages today would have been spared by the deluge and the State would have saved millions.

Relocation of villages is not an easy task but it is the only option. Re-diverting the river course is not viable. A study of Fiji's hydrology and geomorphology will reveal that our rivers are known to be very swift and ferocious and will create its own pathway during abnormal times. People do not want to leave their site as it has traditional and cultural values and ties. Relocation does not mean moving miles away from the village. Some low - lying villages need to be shifted only a few metres to safer ground while some need to be shifted further away from their initial sites. It is a hard choice to make and a worthwhile one for the future.

Additionally, sustainable management of forests and the entire watershed will help reduce the chances of rapid flooding. Sustainable farming practices need to be encouraged and practiced to control the silt going into streams and rivers.

Indiscriminate logging practices must stop as it is the cause of massive landslides and silt deposits in river beds.

The recent flooding will not be the last....

Pradeep Lal takes keen interest in natural disasters and is the author of the book titled Cyclone Ami. He can be contacted on email:

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