Many island nations are already experiencing rising sea levels due to global warming and the increased severity of cyclones due to climate change, for example: Maldives; Marshall Islands; Fiji; Solomon Islands, Philippines; Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Kiribati.
I will post on this blog details of how they have been affected, when it becomes available, though the global media tends to ignore the problem.
In Fiji, several island villages have been swamped by the sea and need to relocate to higher ground. This has come at considerable cost to their government. The following posts give further details:
From the website of OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (www.unocha.org):
Fiji: Building resilience in the face of climate change
2014, Vanua Levu, Fiji: The village of Vunidogoloa on Vanua Levu was the first community in Fiji to relocate because of coastal erosion and flooding attributed in part to climate change. Credit: Nansen Initiative
Increasingly severe weather patterns and rising sea levels have seen Fiji become the first country in the Pacific to relocate communities because of climate change.
Joana Tuisowaqa has lived in Narikoso village on Ono Island for 25 years. She says that, in the past five years, there has been a significant increase in the number of floods affecting her community.
“We asked for help from the government because water was coming right into the village and most houses were underwater during really high tides and storms,” she says. “People are scared and worried, but they can’t do much about it – they just live with it and know that moving is the only option.”
To the north of the small village of 70 people, ledges have been carved out of the hillside by army engineers. The new elevated site, a few hundred metres inland, is where the community will eventually relocate.
The Narikoso village relocation is supported by the Government of Fiji and a climate change programme run jointly by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the German group GIZ. A series of community consultations have been held to ensure all villagers understand the process.
For the villagers of Vunidogoloa on Vanua Levu, nearly 280 km north of Narikoso, relocation has loomed as a reality for more than 30 years. In February 2014 the village was the first in Fiji to relocate, shifting two kilometres inland after years of coastal erosion and flooding had made their homes inhospitable.
The head of the village, Sailosi Ramatu, says the move was the culmination of a process spanning several decades.
“It was a very emotional period for us as there was a lot of waiting, insecurity, and questioning.”
The Government confirmed the village would be relocated in 2006, but the relocation site was only selected in 2012, following years of consultation and discussion.
“It was not easy for the village community to relocate,” Sailosi explains. “This was especially true for older people that had lived in the village all their life, because the land is part of their culture and identity.”
Land linked to cultural heritage and identity
In Fiji there is a strong cultural connection to land that is closely tied to heritage and identity. The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) has been working with villagers to help them deal with the loss of their homelands.
“Because faith is such a large part of people’s lives in the Pacific, the church is well placed to assist communities in dealing with climate change challenges,” said Julia Edwards from PCC. “We offer accompaniment to affected communities and support to church leaders in dealing with the impacts.”
With a membership of 6.5 million people across the region, the PCC is also working with governments, civil society and regional organizations to develop a regional framework to protect Pacific Islanders displaced by climate change.
Small islands most vulnerable to climate change
According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels are expected to rise between 28 to 61 cm by 2100, with tropical storms and cyclones to become more frequent and intense.
With no criteria for small island developing states on when to abandon homes and relocate, Fiji is leading the way in the development of relocation guidelines. Over the coming decade, the Government intends to move more affected villages and has even offered to resettle other low-lying Pacific nations.
“Relocations are a last resort and just one part of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation strategies to reduce the vulnerability and enhance the resilience of communities,” said Manasa Tagicakabau, Director of Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office. “The lessons learnt from the first successful relocations of Vunidogoloa and Narikoso villages can be applied to other relocation projects in Fiji and the region.”
Human displacement will rise globally
In a 2014 report, IPCC said that human displacement is expected to rise globally in coming decades as a consequence of climate change. While most displacement will likely occur inside countries, some people will seek protection and refuge abroad.
At present there are no provisions under international humanitarian law for people displaced by natural disasters or the effects of climate change to legally enter another country for protection and assistance. The Swiss and Norwegian-led Nansen Initiative is looking to address this gap.
The Nansen Initiative has been holding regional consultations with island states and regional civil-society organizations in the Pacific, as well as in South-East Asia, the Horn of Africa and Central America. Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat of the Nansen Initiative says the results of the consultations will be consolidated and discussed at a global inter-governmental meeting in 2015.
“We want to develop and build consensus on a protection agenda for people displaced by disasters and the effects of climate change,” she says. “It will be an action plan of what to do next and how to address current gaps. This includes looking at gaps in international law, addressing relocation, migration as adaptation and cross-border displacement, and sharing best practices from countries already dealing with these issues.”
“To fail to plan is to plan to fail”
Pacific consultations have stressed the importance of mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions and developing adaptation measures to prevent displacement and relocation. Recommendations from a regional inter-governmental consultation in the Cook Islands in 2013 and a civil society consultation in Fiji in 2014 included integrating human mobility issues within relevant national and regional laws and policies. They also recommended developing appropriate legal frameworks to address the protection needs of displaced populations.
For Hannah, the approach is simple: “We should do our utmost to build resilience and allow people to stay in their homes, but the risk of displacement and relocation is a Pacific reality. We must also have capacity to plan for and respond when movement is unavoidable.”
She is reminded of the words of the Hon. Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, who concluded the consultation in Rarotonga with: “To fail to plan is to plan to fail”.
Planning for Community Relocations Due to Climate Change in Fiji Karen E. McNamara1 • Helene Jacot Des Combes. Int J Disaster Risk Sci (2015) 6:315–319. www.ijdrs.com
Abstract As a consequence of the impacts of climate change, some households and entire communities across the Pacific are making the complex and challenging decision to leave their homelands and relocate to new environments that can sustain their livelihoods. This short article charts how the residents of Vunidogoloa village in Fiji relocated in early 2014 to reduce their vulnerability to encroaching sea level and inundation events that regularly devastated the community. As a consequence of the Vunidogoloa relocation, this article also explores how the Fiji Government is planning for similar resettlement transitions, including vulnerability and adaptation assessments to develop a list of potential community relocations and the development of national relocation guidelines. This study draws from key informant interviews (n = 8) with government officials, as well as representatives from intergovernmental and local nongovernmental organizations, who are involved in the relocation issue. Given the speed at which these national, top-down initiatives are being forged and especially in light of the absence of any mention of relocation in Fiji’s 2012 climate change policy, careful and inclusive engagement across all scales and stakeholders, including communities ‘‘earmarked’’ for relocation, is paramount.
From an article in the New Scientist, 25th March 2017 by Nenad Jaric Dauenhauer:
This nation has been facing being swamped by the sea for many years and initially looked to find land on which to re-locate. Now, with a new government, under President Abdulla Yameen, they are no longer seeking new land to buy but have devised a new strategy, using engineering. They are renting out islands and using the money to build new ones, through the process of land reclamation. One of these artificial islands is called Hulhumale, near the capital Male. Sand is being pumped from surrounding atolls and deposited on shallow reefs. It is being fortified with walls up to 3 metres above sea level – the highest natural island is just 2.5 metres above the sea.
Some think that this could do damage to the surrounding reefs and are arguing for a more sustainable approach.
Caption in New Scientist “It’s build or sink for the Maldives”
According to the Guardian (10th May 2016), five of the uninhabited islands in the Solomon archipelago have been lost to rising seas, with another six having large swathes of land and villages washed into the sea. Over the last 20 years, sea levels in the region have risen by 10 mm. In these six, entire villages have been destroyed and people forced to re-locate, as in Fiji. One was Nuatambu, home to 25 families, with 11 houses lost since 2011. Other people were forced to move from the island of Nararo.
These Pacific Islands are very low lying and five of them have already disappeared due to rising seas and erosion. The remaining islands are regularly swamped by the sea. The island group includes Bikini Atoll, where the US dropped bombs in their trials of the hydrogen bomb. Many of the residents of the Marshall Islands have already been displaced, some settling in Arkansas in the US. This is one of the clearest injustices of climate change.
A video explains the situation from the islanders point of view:
Further photographs showing seas swamping the islands can be found on a Google search: Marshall Islands and climate change.
Relocation in other parts of the world
Recent reports suggest that coastal communities on mainland Alaska are also having to relocate due to rising seas.
The following story comes from Vice News: https://news.vice.com/article/doomed-by-climate-change-kiribati-wants-migration-with-dignity
Kiribati, a tiny nation on a chain of 33 atolls and reef islands in the South Pacific, could be the first entire country eliminated by climate change. As seas rise, the islands are increasingly inundated by high tides, and islanders believe the sea will swallow their lands in less than a generation.
That has thrust former three-term president Anote Tong into the spotlight. Facing the reality of his country’s rapid disappearance, Tong spent his presidency making practical preparations for the relocation Kiribati’s 100,000 citizens out of their homeland to ensure that when it truly becomes unlivable they won’t become refugees.
Planning for what he calls “migration with dignity”, Tong purchased 6,000 acres of land in Fiji for the I-Kiribati to move to and relocated 75 citizens a year to New Zealand. But dignity, he maintained, also means having a homeland for the diaspora to remember, so he suggested raising one of the islands to protect it for posterity.
Together with the leaders of other Small Island Developing States, Kiribati advocated for a fossil free world by 2050 and, famously, ensured a Paris Agreement that aims for no more than 1.5 degrees of warming, half a degree less than the original draft. No longer president, Tong continues to be a voice for environmental protection and marginalized communities that are most vulnerable to climate change, as Arielle Duhaime-Ross discovered in a conversation in New York.
Arielle Duhaime-Ross: Tell us a little about Kiribati, what does climate change mean for the country?
Anote Tong: Barely two meters above sea level on average is the elevation above water. Very narrow strips of land, no mountains at all. So we definitely are most vulnerable and the front line of what is happening with climate change.
ADR: What are the human consequences of climate change on the country of Kiribati?
AT: We have communities who have to leave their villages because the village is no longer there. You have this church sitting out in the middle of the sea because the tide is in but this is where the village used to be. So the church is there because I asked the villagers to put a sea wall around it so that it can stay there as clear evidence of what is happening.
I was in one of the communities when the sea wall broke into a freshwater pond. I was not there after that but I’ve been advised that the food crops have died, the water lens has been destroyed. I can see that community relocating in the very near future.
ADR: The country of Kiribati on average is about 6 and half feet above the sea level right now is that correct?
AT: It would be about that but most of the communities, the people, when the tide is in, they are just living where the water is lapping, so whenever there is a king tide or a bit of the wind, then you get this waves coming over destroying properties and homes. We’ve had flooding where we’ve not had flooding in the past. These are the things we are experiencing today.
ADR: When people think about flooding, we think about houses being destroyed and people having to relocate, but are there other consequences to flooding?
AT: So when waves top over on the land you get many things happening. One being the erosion so you get destruction of property. Second, you get the water destroying the water lens because we get our water from underground water. This is what we live on, we survive on, we don’t have rivers. So this is where we draw our potable water. So once that gets destroyed, it has implications on the health of our people because they’d be drinking bad water.
ADR: Can anything be done to save Kiribati?
AT: I think there is. I think it’s very doable, but the question is where we get the resources to do it. Give me a few billion dollars and there’s no question in my mind that there’s quite a lot that we could do. I’ve been quoted as talking about floating islands. We’d have to depend on the international community and this is what I’ve been advocating. I just come back from Europe trying to advocating possible solutions to the challenge that we face because if nothing is done, then according to the projections of the government panel on climate change, we will be gone.
ADR: How long does Kiribati have?
AT: We think in 30 to 50 years something very drastic, if not before then.
ADR: Can you talk about the concept of migration with dignity?
AT: We have to acknowledge the brutal reality that some of our people have to relocate. So knowing that, we don’t want to be just sitting there waiting for it to happen and do nothing about it. This is why I’ve been advocating this “migration with dignity” because I’ve always resented the way are being referred to as potential “climate refugees.” We don’t want to be refugees. It’s a bad term.
ADR: Why is that a bad term?
AT: It’s undignifying, very undignifying. We would have lost our homes, we don’t want to lose our dignity, we don’t want to lose our pride. If we train our people and they become skilled, then they would migrate with dignity and on merit, they would not be people running away from something. They would be migrating, relocating as people with skills as members of communities they go into, even leaders, I hope. We don’t want to be the category of people that want to go to other countries and are being resisted, being pushed away. This is happening, we can see this, we should be learning, taking lessons from what’s happening in Europe. In that part of the world and the Pacific we get people wanting to migrate to Australia they have been put into camps.
ADR: Kiribati has bought some land in Fiji, are you hoping most of your citizens will end up there?
AT: Fiji has been the only country that’s come forward, stepped forward when nobody else would. And they’ve said that if and when Kiribati and Tuvalu should need somewhere to go in the event of sea level rise, Fiji is willing to accommodate. Now that has been the kind of compassionate response that I expected of people because I believe people to be compassionate. So that is very human, very merciful, I must say.
The nine islands of Tuvalu are located in the middle of the Pacific. Funafuti, the main island and capital, is at 1000 km North of Fiji. Tuvalu became, notably thanks to the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the international symbol of the consequences of climate change. Sea-level rise, one of the most known consequences, is a major threat for Tuvalu, considering that this countrys highest point is 4,5 meters over sea-level (whereas most of the land is way below that point). The consequences of climate change will have and already have considerable impacts on these islands.
In the National Adaptation Programme of Actions (NAPA), the government of Tuvalu has identified seven main and immediate threats for the livelihoods of Tuvaluans. These seven adverse effects are presented here:
Coastal: Following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea-level has already risen by 20 centimetres between 1870 and nowadays. Considering the low-lying position of Tuvalu, this trend is going to dangerously affect the islands. The objective of the government is to increase the resilience of coastal areas and settlement to climate change.
Agricultural: Due to sea-level rise, the ground of Tuvalu is prone to increasing salinization, threatening the habitats of some plants, such as pulaka and coconut trees. Considering that Pulaka traditionally is the staple food in Tuvalu, the adaptation strategy is to introduce salt-tolerant pulaka.
Water: The islands of Tuvalu have progressively lost their fresh groundwater resources, not only due to sea-level rise, but also because of human pollution. In consequence, Tuvaluans only rely on rainwater storage to meet their needs. However, the seasons on Tuvalu are getting irregular and difficult to forecast, leading to droughts and water shortage. In order to ameliorate this situation, the adaptation plan recommends improved and increased water collection and water conservation techniques.
Health: Vectors breeding grounds will have an increasing availability in the next years and decades because of higher tides, inundations and tropical cyclones. The increased availability will exacerbate the exposure of the Tuvaluans to water borne diseases and will increase the epidemic potential of the islands.
Fisheries: Climate change, heating the ocean water, impacts the corals and consequently the marine fauna. The biodiversity of the ocean, and also, in the case of Tuvalu, of the atolls will decrease. In order to prevent this irreparable lost of species due to heat, fragile ecosystems have to be protected.
Fisheries: The biodiversity of the atoll and particularly in the shallower water in the lagoon, will not be the only affected by the impacts of the rising surface water temperature. The rising temperatures will also considerably reduce the shellfish and available fish resources. Considering that the Tuvaluans, on average, eat 500 grams of fish per capita every day, a reduction of the resource will have a disastrous impact of the livelihoods and, thus, also on development.
Disaster: Tuvalu has been increasingly exposed to tropical storms and cyclones since 1990. Between 1970 and 1990, only three tropical storms, hurricanes or cyclones struck Tuvalu. However, between 1990 and 2005, the islands experienced thirteen similar meteorological events. In order to ease the impacts of the population, the country will have to implement of disaster alert and response potential system.
The population density of Tuvalu is high, ranking 13th in the world compared with other nations. It is a small piece of land, only 26km2 with a population of 11 000 people – a population density of about 423 persons per square kilometre. However, the situation on Tuvalu is not even. On the capital island, Funafuti, more than 5 000 people live on only 2,4km2 (as the islanders have gathered on just one of the islets, Fogafale, the real area is even smaller, about 1,4 km2). In other terms, it means that close to 2 000 persons live on each square kilometre of the atoll; and “only” 260 for the outer islands.
The following video link gives a picture of how climate change is affecting the Seychelles: