The people of Koro Island are in high spirits and the cyclone has only made the villagers stronger and they are ready to rebuild their lives, says Wildlife Conservation Society Community Outreach Officer, Isoa Koroiwaqa. Isoa was recently in Koro, Lomaiviti Province, as part of a multi-disciplinary team that recently carried out an Integrated Vulnerability Assessment (IVA) on the island.

WCS and partners from the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Finance, the University of the South Pacific’s Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD), iTaukei Affairs Board, Commissioner Eastern Division, Fiji Locally Manager Marine Areas Network (FLMMA) and International Labour Organisation, camped on the Island for 15 days to carry out assessments to quantify the level of vulnerability of communities and their resources, to cyclone and other natural disasters, as well as climate change. The Integrated Vulnerability Assessment is a key approach used by government that will also be used to guide discussions around the relocation of communities to more safer locations on the island.

Tropical Cyclone Winston, a category 5 Tropical Cyclone hit Fiji on 20 February 2016 and four months later communities are working hard to rebuild their lives. Koro Island together with another 166 islands were directly in the path of the cyclone and bore the full brunt of the cyclone leaving 44 people killed, with Koro recording the highest casualties.

“It is their resiliency that enabled them to recover from the cyclone and begin the rebuilding process, despite the trauma of this catastrophic event. Many people still find the memory of the cyclone still hard to share,” he said.

Isoa last visited Koro four years ago. His recollection of Koro was of its beautiful beaches, rich vegetation, thick forests, beautiful coastline villages and large farms filled with root crops and Yaqona plantations that could be visible from sea.

“This beauty that I remember is no more. The Koro of my memory is gone and this made me very emotional and more determined to help the people we met.”

“I was more eager to meet the people, to talk to them and to get an idea of what their true needs are,” Isoa added.

Waisea Mokulau, 64 of Nasau village was thankful to have the team on the island saying that he is now slowly rebuilding his life and it still haunted by his experience of the cyclone.

“It’s uncomfortable to talk about what we went through, but we need to talk about it so that we can move on,” he said.

“It was one of the scariest experiences of my life and to this day, whenever I look out to sea, I’m reminded of the life we had then and how quickly this was taken away from us. It is hard to forget but we have to try.”

Food source in Koro is at its lowest on the Island. Villagers have replanted their crops, but it will take months before they can harvest them for food and income generation. According to the village headman of Nakodu village, Alipate Tiko, farmers are now using whatever clear space they see to plant easily sprouting vegetables and fruits.

“We are planting cabbages, tomatoes, and watermelons mostly on spaces that have been cleared while we wait to have the huge trees cleared from our plantation and our homes rebuild. We’re making do with the tents and the food rations that we have been supplied with until our food crops come back,” Alipate said.

Fishermen on the island have also indicated that the volume of fish caught is slowly increasing with the hope that this would improve in the next few months.

The IVA on Koro Island was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through WCS. WCS hopes that the report generated from this assessment would assist stakeholders to identify and formulate an integrated approach to address five critical areas for the people of Koro, namely food security, human health, water security, ecosystems health, and energy security.