HELP! I am drowning


Photo credit: Joseph Anastacio
Photo credit: Joseph Anastacio

Editor’s Note: This summer, the PICCC has been joined by Joseph Anastacio, a Palau native and current University of Hawai’i student, serving as an intern through the Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science (PIPES). Below, Joe describes some of the climate change impacts he has witnessed in Palau. 

I remember one evening asking my dad the name of a fish swimming right by the back of my house. The fish wasn’t supposed to be there, and the seawater wasn’t supposed to be so high. But I didn’t think much about it, and my dad did not say anything more than the name of the fish. I also remember seeing the water go into my neighbors’ house which was lower than ours. The next morning, my dad built a makeshift bridge so that I could walk to the car and get to school without getting wet. I was so young that I did not understand why all this water was ruining so much. My story is just one of the many stories you hear from Pacific Islanders today. In my last blog, I talked about the effects of climate change on the ocean, the economy, and the people. In this blog, I will bring us to land, a place where we grow our food, where we put our houses, and where we have existed for thousands of years.

Most of the taro is grown in farmlands found at the bottom of hills. This part of the land is soft and optimal for growing good taro. Saltwater intrusion into these farmlands is currently a big problem and puts the plants in danger. If the plants are wiped out, Palauans will depend more on imported food. The future generations of Palauans should not have to depend on imported rice. They should not think that food comes from a store around the corner. They should eat the food they grow. It scares me to think the food I loved as a child, made fresh and grown locally, might disappear. If I have children, what do I say to them about past ways of cultivating and cooking local food? Do I explain how their grandmother made soup from taro leaves? Years ago, the land that our house sits on did not flood like it does today. My neighbors, too, did not think their house would be inundated with water. The flooding in the houses has also created a problem for the sewage system. During the floods, the water usually goes into the sewage system, which overloads and breaks, and in turn creates health problems for the people around the area. I do not know how to process it all when I see these problems. It is as if all my life and everyone I know are going under.

Later, I found the fish I asked my father about, and it was dead. It had lost its way out, was trapped, and could not escape. Can we get out of this? Growing our food like we have always done without it washing away is very important for our health and culture. I wish my neighbor’s and our house would not flood. I get emotional when I think about the water taking everything. If there is a lifeguard that can carry my dad, mom, the whole family, my neighbors, and everyone out of this, the time is now. I would put my hands in the air, moving them with desperation and say as loud as I can, “HELP! I am drowning.”

In an upcoming blog, I will talk about how culture is being affected and how it is a solution.

Joseph Anastacio

University of Hawai’i, Hilo