Friday, October 12, 2007

Immediate refugees from Climate Change

From Aim High, the newsletter of Australian Ethical Investment (supplemented from Friends of the Earth Australia, whom AIE helps sponsor):

The Carteret Islanders, located off the coast of Papua New Guinea, are amongst the world's first cliamte change refugees. An entire cultural group is facing relocation due to rising seas and flooding.

The Carterets are a scattering of low lying islands in a horseshoe shape stretching roughly 30 kilometres in a north-south direction, with a total land area of 0.6 square kilometres and a maximum elevation of 1.2 metres above sea level.

While the islanders have fought for more than twenty years against the rising ocean, by building sea walls and planting mangroves, storm surges and high tides continue to wash away homes, destroy vegetable gardens, and contaminate fresh water supplies.

On November 24, 2005, the Papua New Guinean government authorised the evacuation of the islands, 10 families at a time, to Bougainville. The evacuation started in early 2007 and this could continue up until 2020, depending on how inhabited the islands remain. However, it has also been estimated that by 2015, the Carteret Islands could be largely submerged and entirely uninhabitable.

There are significant cultural issues in relocating an entire people from atolls to the mainland where different food, livelihood and living conditions will affect the identity of the people.

This situation is but one example of the impacts being felt in our region. It highlights the need for rich countries like Australia to stop harming, by significantly reducing their emissions, and start helping, by supporting adaptation and resilience building in climate affected communities.

The Carteret Islands (also known as Carteret Atoll, Tulun or Kilinailau Islands/Atoll), are part of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and located 120 kilometres northeast of Bougainville in the Pacific Ocean.

All of the islands are on the edge of the lagoon and the population of the Carterets is about 2,500 people. Han is the largest island, with a population of about 1,000. All of the islands have tree cover, except where small clearings have been made for crop gardens.

Impacts of climate change
Salt water intrusion is becoming a growing problem and appears to be a result of climate change induced sea-level rise mixed with the natural variation in elevation of atolls. This natural movement or variation in islands exacerbates the vulnerability of the Carterets to the climate change impacts of sea-level rise because it allows salt water intrusion during times of storm surge behind houses and gardens.

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