From Papua New Guinea, a Climate Migrant’s Story

Already in her 70s, Rufina Moi was forced to leave the Carteret Islands, Papua New Guinea, two years ago. A number of factors influenced her decision to leave behind her home, with the main one being land degradation: the declining area of land available to cultivate due to high population growth and sea-level rise. Losing her land presented problems she felt she could only deal with by leaving.

In addition to the decline in cultivable land, poor access to government services was a major push factor for Rufina to move as she highlighted the remoteness of her home and the associated poor transport networks. Since she relocated to Buka, Rufina has not returned to the island, although she has expressed her undying desire to one day return to her homeland.

Rufina has called upon the government of Bougainville to provide financial support to improve the transport system to and from the island so that it is reliable, affordable and safe. Facilitating the mobility of her people by ensuring the islanders are able to travel to the mainland to access government services and livelihood options through their social networks would provide a favourable adaptation strategy to people of the Carterets.

Back home in the Carteret Islands, Rufina is a well-respected leader who played an important role in local governance as a member of the Council of Elders (COE). Coming from a teaching background, Rufina is now heavily involved with youth and women’s activities in Buka through the Catholic Church as a counsellor.

When Rufina was living in the Carterets she received an income allowance from the government for her membership in the COE. Currently, in Buka, her income largely comes from baking and selling products such as doughnuts and scones.  With any surplus that she makes, Rufina buys rice and other foodstuffs from the local market and sends it home to her grandchildren. Along with food, she sends remittances back home to support her household.

Rufina has been able to access land for gardening in nearby villages in Buka through her established social network. This livelihood activity provides her with food and any extra she is able to cultivate is sent home - typically she sends baskets of kaukau in recognition of addressing the acute food shortages experienced on the Carteret islands.

“I go and do gardening in Hagogohe village [where] villagers know me. From my harvests I am able as well to send kaukau to feed my grandchildren back home.”

Rufina believes that if the government could address land and housing matters of the resettlement sites more Carterets families could be successfully relocated and establish their livelihood in mainland Buka. In the meantime she is calling for support towards the establishment of a transit house in Buka for the people of the Carterets as a way of facilitating the prevailing mobility patterns.

Rufina perceives resettlement of her people as inevitable due to climate change, reiterating that her island is experiencing unprecedented environmental changes and that the existence of future generations is severely compromised.