Soon to be lost paradises

In the past few weeks – and further to my articles on rising sea levels – I have been wondering how the beautiful islands in Oceania and elsewhere will be affected by this phenomenon.

It seems many people will have to flee their homes. Indeed, many islands like Tuvalu and the Maldives (pictured) may disappear from the surface of our planet by mid-century.

Today I propose you some of the latest articles on that topic. Climate change is happening right now, those islanders witness it as you read this.

This article from the International Herald Tribune gives us an overview of the situation:

Dire climate change predictions may seem like science fiction in many parts of the world. But in the tiny, sea-swept Pacific nation of Tuvalu, the crisis has already arrived.

(…) The government and many experts already assume the worst: Sometime in the next 50 years, if rising sea-level predictions prove accurate, the entire 11,800-strong population will have to be evacuated.

The ocean could swallow Tuvalu whole, making it the first country to be wiped off the map by global warming.

(…) That is a lifeline that many similarly threatened island nations – including Kiribati, Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, Fiji and the Solomon Islands – do not yet have.

While their stories may not be as compelling as Tuvalu’s, such nations include atolls that may also vanish. And they depend on vulnerable, low-lying coastal areas for living space, cropland and tourism.

For them, even conservative estimates of rising waters look set to make life on once-idyllic islands increasingly nasty, crowded and very, very wet.

“Entire Pacific islands disappearing from inundation is indeed dramatic,” said Asterio Takesy, director of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, an intergovernmental organization based in Apia, Samoa.

(…) The region already faces a witches’ brew of problems that environmentalists say are being worsened by climate change: coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion onto taro cropland and tourist sites, shortages of potable water, anemic economies propped up by foreign aid, disease, dependence on sugar-packed, processed food imports.

As the Independent reported back in December 2006, rising sea levels already had washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. And this is only a beginning. As this newspaper notes:

The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India’s part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

To conclude on this topic, TreeHugger provided me an overview of the situation at hand with an interesting article on how the Maldives islanders are looking for a new home as their islets are due to disappear in the very next decades:

The Maldives, that little stretch of paradise off the coast of India, is looking for a new homeland. Literally.

(…) The new president, the first-ever to be democratically elected, Mohamed Nasheed said “We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere. It’s an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome.

(…) The plan is to divert a portion of the nation’s profits from the tourism industry and create a “sovereign wealth fund” to invest in new lands. He is looking at other countries such as Sri Lanka and India because they have similar cultures. Australia is an option because of the large amounts of unoccupied land available.

(…) Sea levels have already risen by about 20 cm in the last century. Many people died and others were left without homes after the 2004 tsunami. That wave was barely a metre high and it displaced 12,000 people.

Now the authorities are dredging the surrounding reefs and using sand to raise the level of the main island which is most densely populated. Tens of thousands of trees have been planted to stop erosion and give some protection against severe weather conditions. However it is recognised that this will not be enough to cope with the long term effects of global warming.

The only way to help people keep their homes is to cut our greenhouse gases emissions as soon as possible. This can be done in many ways like energy efficiency and conservation and cutting our over-reliance on fossil fuels.

We need to act fast…

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