Fiji’s prime minister has blamed climate change for a cyclone which killed five people and caused severe flooding, saying the Pacific nation is now under constant threat and has entered a “frightening new era”.
As authorities tried to restore power and water supplies across various islands, Frank Bainimarama said Fiji was facing a “fight for our very survival” and urged other countries to support efforts to tackle the causes of climate change.
"We are now at an almost constant level of threat from these extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent and more severe because of climate change," he said.
"As a nation we are starting to build our resilience in response to the frightening new era that is upon us."
Cyclone Josie brought torrential rains and led to heavy flooding on the weekend. It came just six weeks after Cyclone Gita in February, which caused some property damage in Fiji but devastated Tonga, and two years after Cyclone Winston, which killed 44 people.
Fiji and other small Pacific nations have led a desperate push for global action to combat climate change, saying that rising sea levels and intense weather events have already begun to make parts of their territory uninhabitable.
Mr Bainimarama assumed a leading role in international climate talks last November when he served as president of the UN’s COP23 negotiation in Bonn.
"We need to get the message out loud and clear to the entire world about the absolute need to confront this crisis head on," he said.
Most scientists believe climate change will reduce the frequency of cyclones as temperature differences between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere decrease. But it will lead to more intense cyclones – including higher wind speeds and greater rainfall – as warmer water temperatures add to overall precipitation and to the amount of energy at the water surface.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said it was difficult to detect trends about cyclone intensity in the region because of a lack of consistent data. But it noted: “We may have fewer cyclones but the ones we do have will be stronger.”
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Professor James Renwick, an expert in atmospheric sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, told Radio New Zealand in February he expected cyclone intensity to increase because there will be “more energy in the climate system”.
“Warmer seas, warmer air – so when you have a tropical cyclone it’s likely to be more intense," he said.
Since the latest cyclone in Fiji, authorities have been clearing debris, restoring roads and assisting people who have taken shelter in dozens of evacuation centres.
Ranjana Devi, a mother of two, said her family was trapped in their house as the floodwaters smashed through their village and started rising in their home. She and her husband were in separate rooms – each with a son – and survived when their boys kicked through a window and opened a door to allow them to escape.
“At one point it was me and my younger son Veron trapped in one room,” she told the Fiji Sun.
“My husband and elder son Devan were trapped in the other room. It all happened so quickly. As the water rose, we knew we could have all died and what made it worse was the fact that we were separated and locked in different rooms.”
She added: “From here, we will rebuild and start all over. We have lost everything in this flood.”
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