Climate change packs a one-two punch for this professional rugby player and farmer

Illustration by Natalia Polanco

By Roselyn Bali

Viliame Tunidau grew up playing outside with his brothers and cooling down in the Sigatoka river after a hard day of rugby practice. But the 23-year-old professional rugby player and farmer says climate change has taken those same opportunities away from the next generation.

Listen to Viliame Tunidau’s story.

“I feel sad and disappointed as well because kids nowadays, they don’t get to experience the things we had when we were kids. They have to stay indoors because of the climate change.”

Viliame Tunidau

Viliame Tunidau is a rugby player and farmer in Sigatoka, the western part of Fiji. Climate change, like higher temperatures, affect his playing and his farm. Photo by Roselyn Bali

Despite low carbon emissions, Fiji is one of the nations most impacted by climate change. Tunidau’s livelihood has been impacted by both rising temperatures and stronger storms. 

Growing up, Tunidau was inspired by watching the Fiji rugby team playing overseas on television. He likes the sport because it keeps him physically fit, he meets new people and travels around the world.

Viliame Tunidau (#12) huddles with his team, Coastline ROOS, at a rugby game in Nadi. Playing in hotter temperatures sometimes causes him to get migraines. Photo courtesy of Coastline Roos

But training in the ever-rising temperatures is taking a toll on his health. 

“Due to sweating I always get dehydrated,” he said. “I almost vomited during training as well.” 

When it does rain, the storms are far more intense and his team has had to cancel many practices and games due to floods and storms. 

He feels disappointed because he wants to stay fit.

Climate change has also impacted his farm, which is family relies on for food. He comes from a long line of farmers, but his family recently had to relocate to a place on higher grounds after flash floods. 

Viliame Tunidau works at his family farm in Laselase settlement. Due to climate change, his crops get washed out by flooding. Photo by Roselyn Bali

He was disappointed because it takes them months to plant and farm, but one heavy downpour can wash that away. The Jan. 11 cyclone did just that.

“There was a flood in my farm and some of the root crops were affected by it,” he said. “It’s a bit disappointing… because we’ve worked hard for a few months planting.” 

Tunidau has also noticed a big change in the Sigatoka River, Fiji’s longest river, which he grew up swimming in. 

“Before it used to be shallow where we used to enjoy our cool off, but now it’s deep and it’s muddy due to flooding and raining,” he said. “It has been a big change in our environment.” 

He’s sad to see villages flooding, farmers’ crops washed away or damaged, power outages and water cuts. Tunidau wants countries with high carbon emissions to stop polluting so climate change stops affecting people from the Pacific. 

“We should take care of our Mother Earth,” he said. “It will be a sad thing for us to witness our country or our place being affected by floods or cyclones.” 

Categorized as Stories

By Roselyn Bali

Roselyn Bali is a senior journalism major at the University of the South Pacific, Laucala campus. She writes for the student newspaper Wansolwara and decided to pursue journalism because she is passionate about listening to and sharing people’s stories. She loves traveling, socializing, Polynesian and hula dancing, and watching Korean dramas.

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