The 2,000 residents of the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea are now some of the world's first climate change refuges, as rising sea levels driven by global warming have claimed their island homes. The residents of the low-lying South Pacific atolls have given up their 20-year losing fight against rising seas and will be resettled elsewhere in Papua New Guinea.
[From Pacific Islands Report:]
The Carteret Islands are almost invisible on a map of the South Pacific, but the horseshoe scattering of atolls in eastern-most Papua New Guinea is on the front line of climate change, as rising sea levels and storm surges eat away at their existence.
For 20 years, the 2,000 islanders living there have fought a losing battle against the ocean, building sea walls and trying to plant mangroves. Each year, the waves surge in higher, destroying vegetable gardens, washing away homes and contaminating fresh water supplies.
[Image: View of Huene Island in the Carteret's. Huene used to be one island but has now been bisected by rising seas. Fallen coconut trees in the foreground (on Iolassa Island) are also caused by the erosion of the coastline. Han Island, the largest in the group is in the distance.]
Recently, Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare appropriated PGK4.1 million [US$1.4 million] to resettle PNG villagers affected by global warming.
The funding was part of a PGK1.6 billion [US$569 million] supplementary budget handed down by Treasury and Finance Minister Patrick Pruaitch.
Out of the PGK4.1 million funding, PGK2 million [US$712,000] will go to the Bougainville Autonomous Region’s Carteret Islanders.
The local Bougainville government has an ongoing resettlement program which it hopes to complete by the end of the year.
Rising sea levels will not only displace human populations. Coral reefs are expected to be affected by changes in ocean levels and sea surface temperatures.
As a result, the communities that depend upon these marine resources will be affected as well.
PNG’s Carteret islanders are destined to become some of the world’s first climate change refugees. Their islands are becoming uninhabitable, and may soon disappear below the waves.
A decision has been made to move the islanders to the larger nearby Bougainville Island, a four-hour boat ride to the southwest.
Ten families at a time will be moved once funds are released for the resettlement program.
An IPCC has predicted that average sea levels are likely to rise between 9cm and 88cm (3.5 to 35 inches) by 2100.