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June 12, 2009
Rising sea levels force island populations to evacuate

Rising sea levels could force the evacuation of entire populations from low-lying countries like the Maldives, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, according to a recent United Nations report.

Last week, the U.N. passed a resolution introduced by small islands that will recognize climate change as a threat to security. Climate change could potentially create 200 million refugees by 2050.

The people of the Carteret Islands have been called the world’s first environmental refugees. Journalist “Dan” chronicled his experience at the Carteret Islands in his blog, “Journey to the Sinking Lands,” where he describes how life has been impacted by the encroaching sea:

You can walk around the largest and most populated island, Han, in less than an hour. Life on the islands moves to its own rhythms; the only electricity is supplied by a few generators or solar panels so people wake and sleep with the sun. There is virtually no paid work and instead, people fish and gather fruit from the forest to survive. They are some of the nicest people I have met and, having visited, it is more the similarities between life there and at home that stay with you.

[…] The adults can tell you where they remember the shoreline reached in their childhood – as much as 50 metres further out from where the beach is now. Coupled with this are storm surges and high tides that are far worse now than any time in living memory. These smash in and strip away the land and the people’s fruit crops. What crops remain are being poisoned by salt. As a result, the regional government has decided to evacuate the entire population of the islands.

He also provides an interactive map showing which parts of the world will be flooded as the sea level rises. Watch a video featuring the evacuees from the Carteret Islands, produced by Jennifer Redfearn of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting:

Blogger Mehrunnisa Yusuf visits the Maldives  —  the lowest-lying country in the world — and argues that the rest of the world needs to follow the small country’s lead in combating climate change:

Fortunately for the Maldivians their government, both the previous and newly elected democratic one, is doing a fair share to address these challenges. As a developing country that is challenged by its own geographical environment and resource constraints it is remarkable that they have taken such a robust stance on this issue. To be sure, the government’s decision to go carbon neutral in a decade is an ambitious target, but that is to lose sight of the important precedent that is being set. It is time for the international community to take stock and follow the steps and listen to the voices of small states.

In October, Evelyn Ng of the World Bank described life in Kiribati, one of the threatened islands:

The people of Kiribati (I-Kiribati) are thirsty. Literally. The water drawn from the wells has become almost undrinkable due to salination. The ladies say: “water cannot drink, too salty”. They would have to go digging elsewhere or share with neighbours or look for unguarded water

Kiribati is one of the island countries threatened by climate change.

sources. The I-Kiribati live mainly on coconuts and breadfruit. Three years of drought has caused some of the coconut trees to dry up, while high waves have damaged some of the trees closer to the water. Of course, I-Kiribati survive on fish too but fishermen are now suffering from the impact on global oil prices. They say:  “price gone up, now we don’t go so far, we catch smaller fish.”

Blogger Marguerite Finn writes about the difficulties facing Kiribati as it considers relocating its people — and perhaps losing its culture:

This is a huge dilemma: how to find host countries to take the immigrants and to ensure that they do not sink to the bottom of the pile, losing their self-respect and their culture.

In the best I-Kiribati paternal tradition, President Anote Tong is leading a move towards maximum education for all his people — seeing this as giving them the best equipment for the nation’s demise and their personal futures. He explained: “I don’t want my people to be called refugees – but rather immigrants who have the capacity to work on any standard skills for any jobs required in their new homes.”

There is a genuine ‘clash of cultures’ here. The Kiribati culture served its people well before being undermined by a drastic change in its climate for which it was not responsible.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user jopolopy under a Creative Commons license.




[…] sort of world will it be without polar bears and tigers, without orangutans or pandas, without the Maldives or Tuvalu or New […]


To mark World Refugee Day, Our World 2.0 has just published an article by Carteret community leader and environmental activist Ursula Rakova who writes about the Islander’s own integrated plan to relocate.

They’ve begun, as stated in this piece, but are in need of funds. So we’ve also posted the downloadable project funding proposal. Check it out and pass it on please.

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