Rising sea levels threaten PNG islanders


‘They must leave this year. The way things are going, I think the islands will be underwater in 15 to 20 years,’ said Tobasi.

Next week, the 2,000 member-scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release their latest report, the result of six years of research.

The 7 million citizens of 22 South Pacific island nations and territories are not expecting rosy news.

The panel already warned in 2001 that global sea levels will rise by up to 88 centimetres by the end of the century, a development primarily caused by an increase in human-produced greenhouse gases heating the earth’s atmosphere and melting icebergs and glaciers.

Carteret islanders, where the highest elevation is a mere 1.70 metres above current sea level, will be resettled to Bougainville within the year provided the necessary funds can be raised.

The islanders are aware that they must hurry, because living on the islands has become almost unbearable and food is getting scarce.

‘They live on coconuts and fish. They used to cultivate sweet potatoes and taro in the swamps, but the floods invaded everything. There are high deposits of salt water and the soil is inappropriate now,’ said Tobasi.

On Tuvalu, located halfway between Australia and Hawaii, vegetable fields also have long since deteriorated while fish stocks have been depleted due to coral reef bleaching.

The highest hills found on the eight Tuvalu islands reach only 5 metres above sea level.

The island-nation’s government has signed an agreement with New Zealand, which will accept Tuvalu’s 11,500 inhabitants when the situation becomes dangerous.

Tuvalu’s government expects the islands to be entirely underwater within the next 50 years.

Rain is the only source of drinking water for the 100,000 citizens of the island republic of Kiribati as shallow freshwater reservoirs are increasingly contaminated by salt due to the rising ocean level.

Kiribati once also comprised the uninhabited islands of Tarawa and Abanuea, but in 1999 they simply went under during a tropical storm and never resurfaced.

The doomsday clock is also ticking in the Maldives, a country of 1,200 islands off the southwestern tip of India.

Some of the coral islands were washed over by the 2004 tsunami and remained flooded for several days, after which the waters receded once more.

The United Nations warned that in a few years continually rising sea levels might cause up to 50 million people to lose their livelihoods and become environmental refugees.

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