When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Indonesia recently, he warned that climate change ranks among the world’s most serious problems, calling upon nations to respond to what he considers “the greatest challenge of our generation.”
As Mission Director of USAID Philippines and the Pacific Islands, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of climate change. From super typhoons, extended droughts, flash floods and other extreme weather events, these countries are often at the receiving end of climate change’s most powerful punches.
In late March, I visited Suva, Fiji to express the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment in the Pacific Islands region and more importantly, to help communities strengthen their resilience to disasters and climate change impacts.
We at USAID know that the most effective solutions to climate change—or any development change for that matter—are those designed by those who are affected. Hence, our new project, the Pacific-American Climate Fund [PDF], will involve partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the 12 Pacific countries.
This $24-million grant facility will support NGO projects on climate change adaptation in the areas of natural resource and water management, livelihood development, and income diversification.
I believe that a “one size fits all” approach will not effectively support communities in their efforts to address climate change. Through this project, we expect to receive many innovative ideas—each providing a unique solution to a climate change problem experienced by each community.
Another example of the importance of engaging local communities is our Coastal Community Adaptation Project (C-CAP). USAID/C-CAP will help coastal communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change by supporting small-scale infrastructure, increasing awareness of how it affects the community, and using this knowledge in participatory mapping and land-use planning.
During my visit to the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji, I had the opportunity to interact with members of the community. They shared with me the personal struggles they’ve encountered due to climate change. I will never forget the story of one manioc (taro) farmer. He has been a farmer all of his life. It’s his only livelihood and he supports his wife and three children. “One day there was heavy rain. It overflowed from the drains into my farm and I lost most of my harvest in that crop,” he lamented. “Now how am I to feed my family?”
We are working vigorously to address the challenges that families of this “Pacific Century”—aptly named by President Obama—face every day. As such, we will improve the drainage management system in Fiji, which will reduce the potential for floods to damage the community’s manioc, vegetable and coconut crops.
But our work doesn’t stop there. USAID also assists the government and civil society of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in expanding HIV prevention, care and treatment models; strengthening women, peace and security in PNG; supporting elections in Fiji; and providing disaster mitigation, relief and reconstruction in Federal States of Micronesia and Republic of Marshall Islands.
By building resilience to climate change, we aim to preserve lives—and livelihoods, which ultimately enables families to live happier, healthier lives and have the freedom to explore opportunities for a brighter future.