Suva, Fiji – A disposable mask flies out of a poorly closed overflowing trash can; one night he encounters a sleepy seagull, whale and school of fish who fervently try to chase him from their homes – fearing he will kill them, like so many other creepy things humans throw around carelessly.
Masky’s Night of Adventure is part of a new ten-book adventure series created by a group of Fiji-based authors covering critical ocean themes ranging from sea level rise and pollution to acidification and ocean deforestation.
The colorful books are also one of a small number globally that are addressing the need to include people living with disabilities in the fight for climate action.
“The ocean plays an important role in regulating the climate,” said Milika Sobey, Pacific Islands Program Manager at The Asia Foundation, which initiated the project.
“While the ocean is so deeply embedded in Pacific Island identity and culture, many children in the region have already experienced firsthand the impacts of severe cyclonic events occurring with greater frequency. They face directly the warming ocean, rising sea levels, destructive storm surges, coastal erosion and the trauma of resettlement.But, we want the children of the Pacific n need not fear the ocean; rather, they must be empowered to become respectful stewards of the world’s largest aquatic ecosystem – the Pacific Ocean.
Pacific island nations occupy and govern the largest body of water in the world.
For tens of thousands of years, ocean civilizations have sailed, built, fought, married, celebrated, mourned, sung and worshiped along the “blue highways” of the Pacific. They revered the sea for its life-giving abundance; feared him for his great power and guarded him with a fierce love that transcended time. In return, the ocean has supported the people of the Pacific in one of the most geographically remote regions of the planet.
But, over the past two decades, the loss of coastal infrastructure, homes and land has become increasingly common. So do more intense cyclones and droughts, the failure of subsistence crops and coastal fisheries, the death of coral reefs and mangroves, and the spread of certain diseases. For the first time in living memory, the North Pacific nation of Palau saw its famous stingless jellyfish disappear for three years from 2016, due to warming waters.
Further south, the Fijian government is moving dozens of villages it fears will disappear under water, and the atoll nation of Tuvalu can no longer be saved from sinking except through an urgent billion dollar rehabilitation. dollars.
Perhaps the most painful part of this alarming turn of events is that none of the countries in danger of disappearing forever have done anything to contribute to the ocean-altering climate crisis.
Instead, after thousands of years of careful stewardship and conservation, the proud people of the “great ocean states” risk being brought to their knees by the world’s greatest nations – mega-carbon emitters whose industry and lifestyles are the cause of global warming.
A vocal advocate at last year’s Climate Conference in Glasgow, Fiji’s Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, Satyendra Prasad, explains that the climate crisis is essentially an ocean crisis.
“The earth has two lungs – the Amazon and the vast blue Pacific,” he told Al Jazeera. “The Amazon is already carbon positive [releasing more carbon dioxide than it is absorbing], which means we need to work even harder to keep the Pacific Ocean functioning optimally. It currently provides 20% of the world’s oxygen; 60 percent of its tuna and more than 80 percent of non-tuna aquatic “blue food”. Above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and a key target of the 2015 Paris climate accord), we risk losing all of that, along with the infinite biodiversity of the ocean.
Labeled “Blue Leaders”, the broad coalition of government leaders and ocean advocates from 13 countries, including Fiji and Palau, called for immediate action by world leaders at COP26 to protect the vast oceans of the world and its irreplaceable ecosystems from life-threatening threats. the impact of climate change and human activity.
“Truly, our only hope for a future where the Pacific and the planet continue to exist and thrive is in the leadership of young people,” Prasad said. “Pacific youth must continue to lead the world – through science, technology, knowledge; through activism and advocacy both at home and far beyond the region.
Invisible and unheard of
Sakiusa Volavola is one of the illustrators of the new Fijian book series.
As a deaf person, he was brought on board to provide a lens of inclusivity in ocean and climate storytelling – something notoriously lacking in all parts of the world.
“The representation of people with disabilities in climate action is so important,” he told Al Jazeera. “Because the climate crisis does not discriminate. It affects every person; it impacts the lived experiences of people with disabilities just as much if not more than anyone else. When you keep people with disabilities out – away from climate work – you also lose a huge reservoir of knowledge and talent.
Although people with disabilities constitute 15% of the world’s population, climate action, including at the global multilateral level, has failed to fully reflect their rights.
Despite being recognized as one of the groups hardest hit by climate change, they have been largely excluded from decision-making processes and outcomes under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as state policies and plans on climate change at the national level. level.
In 2021, the International Disability Alliance highlighted that due to inaccessible disaster preparedness plans, systemic discrimination and widespread poverty, people with disabilities were being left behind in relief and response efforts.
“Part of what we hope will captivate readers of this book series is the diversity of characters,” Sakiusa explained. “One of my favorites is the Scaredy-cat Moli story. We follow Moli as she comes across a small shark stuck in a rock pool. Contrary to what others have told her for a long time, Moli soon discovers that she is much braver than the world thinks, and readers also learn through illustrations that Moli is a child with Down syndrome.
The effects of climate change – from rapid onset disasters such as typhoons and wildfires to more gradual changes such as droughts, rising temperatures and rising sea levels – have disproportionate effects on life , well-being and livelihoods of people with disabilities everywhere. world. The consequences are particularly severe for members of the disability community who experience intersecting forms of discrimination, including women, children, indigenous peoples, the elderly and displaced populations.
A UNESCO-led research project on the impact of Tropical Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu in 2018, found that people with disabilities were almost two and a half times more likely to have been injured during the cyclone. If it was women, it was even worse. The study found that men with disabilities had better access to response and recovery efforts than women with disabilities, although services for people with disabilities were generally more likely to be affected by the disaster.
Among other benefits, the International Disability Alliance points out that including people with disabilities in communication and storytelling about climate action and the impact of climate change ensures more informed decision-making.
The series of ten Fijian books is expected to be available online in the coming weeks via Read, a free digital library for children. The books will appear in English, as well as the country’s two main vernaculars – iTaukei and Fiji Hindi. There will also be audiobook versions for those who are visually impaired or still learning to read.
Reflecting on the unique Fijian origin of these stories, Sobey of the Asia Foundation harbors personal hope.
“Seeing their own lives reflected in these books and reading them in their native language is part of cultural visibility in a world where people in small island states often feel invisible. All of us at BookLab hope that these ten original stories, in Fiji’s three main languages, will ignite a passion for reading in primary school children and perhaps give birth to a new generation of writers and illustrators who will tell the stories of their nation. ”