Climate refugees already have to find new homes.
Papua New Guinea reported in May that the transfer of families from the Carteret Islands to the Bougainville mainland had begun. Higher tides and flooding are making the Carterets uninhabitable. With a highest point of 1.5 metres, the atoll could be submerged by 2015. The entire population is being relocated. The challenges now are to build relationships with the host community and income generating activities to sustain their lives while maintaining their unique cultural traditions.
The latest reports (July) say this has been too difficult. The families have returned to their endangered homes because their new home was too hard to cope with. Issues have included arguments with local land owners over land, lack of proper housing and lack of food as they do not have established gardens. The government is working on new policy for moving the Carteret Islanders and other communities from low lying atolls.
It is estimated that 10% of the world’s population –nearly 700 million people – live in coastal zones less than 10 metres above sea level (UN Population Division). One hundred million people live within 1 metre of mean sea level. If the temperature rises by 3°C, 330 million people will be permanently or temporarily displaced through flooding, including 70 million people in Bangladesh, six million in Lower Egypt and 22 million in Vietnam. Seven million people could be displaced in the Pacific.
Tuvaluans fear they will have to leave their islands. The rising sea temperature is undermining the food supplies and livelihood that Tuvaluans have relied on for centuries. Coral has been bleached and is dying, forcing the fish that used to feed on it to move to other waters. The warmer temperature is changing current flows causing a decline in island fish stocks. Over the last 10 years the high tide in Tuvalu has increased between 25 and 90 cm, a huge challenge to a country on average only 1.8m above sea level. Now 60% of ground water is contaminated by salt water. The islands may become uninhabitable. This would be devastating, Reverend Tafue Lusama of Te Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (the Christian Church of Tuvalu), told a Pacific Climate Change hearing in July 2007.
“The identity of a people is strongly linked to the environment. If you move a people you lose a people. What are the economic and security implications of disappearing exclusive economic zones? Can there be compensation for the loss of a country, its history, its culture, its way of life? How do we put a price on that? Who will pay it?
Pacific Islanders will enter into a world that is not their own. Memory is all that the Tuvaluans will have left of their homeland. Their burial grounds, their schools, their homes, their churches will be enveloped by the ocean. The Tuvaluans can never go home again.”