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Monday, 19 April 2010 12:07 SOLOMON STAR
IMAGINE being forced out of your island due to rising sea level as a result of global warming and climate change.

Its not an easy decision to make, but rather a new a phenomenon that will soon emerge facing vulnerable pacific Island nations.

The challenge from climate change will soon impact on islanders and their livelihood, including their vital natural resources: underground water, food crops, and even infrastructure, are at risk of being affected.

Seawater is eating their tiny islets away, contaminating their food gardens and poisoning their freshwater wells.

Sad to say that the Pacific region is vulnerable to the situation.

Policy makers like our government leaders have an important role to play in this change of time.

In Solomon Islands, the changing climate situation has resulted in:

• Increase in annual mean temperatures – leading to poor agricultural and marine/fisheries productivity,

• Increase in coral bleaching events – leading to decreased marine and fisheries resources,

• Rising sea levels – lead¬ing to food insecurity and water salinity,

• Rising number and in¬tensity of extreme weather events – leading to loss of lives and loss to economic activities.

Forceful migration

But the major impact that it would have in the Pacific is a forceful migration from the islands.

Solomon Islands atolls of Ontong Java, Sikiana and the man-made atolls in Malaita will be at the worst scenario for us.

“We no longer can plant bananas and we have nothing on our fruit trees. We are now feeding on coconuts and fish,” said Ontong Java women from the Malaita Outter Islands, Solomon Islands.

Lost tradition/identity

Removing them would be in breach of their cultural and traditional lifestyle who have long lived in such settings and environment.

In Tuvalu, Kiribati and Maldives, climate change is killing their identity and culture meaning their cultural way of life will be swept away once they live their homeland.

No-body wants to be a stranger in another man’s land.

And for Solomon Islands, the forced migration coupled with the increasing population and land dispute would add to the land issue in this country.

But its a new reality that atolls will have to live with once the changing evironment continue to impact on the atolls.

The issue here is the future of the people's cultural identitty and nationhood.

As president of Kiribati Anote Tong said, the effects of an encroaching ocean on the country’s 33 atolls and islets are real, and scary.

“How can we remain the nation of Kiribati when we are living [say] in Australia?” Tong told an American documentary producer recently.

“What is our citizenship?

“Do we still have our sovereignty when we are no longer living in Kiribati?” Tong have been asking questions that no one really knows the answers.

Developed nation see the impact of such gases in their backyards and their frontyards too, every day.

For Solomon Islands relocation of the people on the atoll is a pressing issue.

Most of the people in this country are coastal people who have lived and die as coastal people.

Its part of the culture to have lived by the coast and on atolls.

But some day they would have to forced off their islands.

Its something which the government of Solomon Islands is closely addressing and dicussing with the islanders concern.

Rence Sore, permanent secretary for the meteorology, conservation and environment said that migration would not be forced.

“Relocation is not easy for Ontong Java,” Sore told journalists who covered the Pacific climate change round-table in Samoa more than a year ago.

“They have been living next to the sea all their lives, eating fish and coconuts, so we can’t just take them out and relocate them somewhere inland in Malaita," he said.

There forcing them out of their island would have consequences.

Land is a pressing issue on the islands.

And to have somebody to come and settle on your island is a very senstive issue.

But the reality for these atolls is that salt water intrusion had devastated taro swamps, food gardens and water.

And migration will have to happen if the rising sea level and the changing weather pattern continue to occur at an alarming rate.

Most smaller atolls will have to face the reality in the coming decades or centuries.

Professor Patrick Nunn, an oceanic geoscience scientist with the University of the South Pacific, told the Pacific climate change round-table in Apia in October 2008 that relocation will have to happen.

“Understandably, no one likes to be told to leave a place where his ancestors had lived.

“But the people of the Pacific must realise that some parts of the Pacific won’t be habitable in the coming years due to sea level rise.

“Disruption associated with relocation can be reduced by early, anticipatory action,” added Professor Nunn.

For Pacific islanders, relocation is not only a cultural issue, but one of economics as well because it would cost the host government.

Disappearing islands

According to SeaWeb's latest update journal Ocean and Coastal Management published on April 6, which is more than a week ago entitled 'Sea Level Rise Will Claim Island States' it stated that several island states will likely physically disappear during the coming century, a phenomenon that "has not previously been seen in modern history."

The paper's authors, Lilian Yamamoto of Kanagawa University and Miguel Esteban of Kyoto University, note that, although "many nations have come and gone," such changes have been to political realignment rather than physical elimination.

That fate, they say, awaits countries built on low-lying atolls-such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean-as a result of sea-level rise.

They said satellite observations suggest that average sea level is increasing by 3 millimeters a year.

Models predict that, by the end of the 21st century, the Maldives, for example, may experience a sea level rise of 20 inches (50 centimeters).

Increased sea levels could flood these atolls, rising saltwater tables could destroy deep-rooted food crops, while a combination of increasing temperatures and ocean acidification could kill the coral reefs that form these islands.

The principal concerns raised by that prospect are the environmental consequences and the immense social upheaval, including the sociological and psychological devastation of literally losing one's country, the two authors said.

But Yamamoto and Esteban also address a legal issue.

If a country disappears physically, does its sovereignty necessarily disappear with it? If so, at what point does that occur: once there is no functioning government, when it can no longer sustain a population, or not until it has completely disappeared beneath the waves? Would it be possible for, say, Tuvalu to maintain a government-in-exile?

The question, the authors argue, is not strictly academic.

They write that it is not inconceivable that, at some point in the future, such atolls could reemerge if nations take mitigating measures-specifically, if global greenhouse gases are significantly reduced to a point where average global temperatures decline and sea levels begin to fall.

Should that happen, they conclude, then the descendants of those who were forced to abandon their countries could reclaim the land that was once their ancestors'.

Mitigation/Adaptation

Pacific is most probably the lowest emitters of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, yet the most vulnerable when it comes to the impact of this changing phenomenon.

Climate change is not a new subject but is serious as time evolves.

The question remains what is the solution for us in the Pacific?

Climate change is long associated with two strategies.

They are mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation entails all human interventions that reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.

And for sure carbon-dioxide is the major green house gas.

Adaptation and mitigation are two parallel strategies important to combat climate.

But of the two mitigations are definitely important.

An increase in tempera¬ture has the potential to disrupt weather pattern, cause rise in sea levels and produces significant changes in the amounts of precipitation.

Other expected effects include changes in agriculture yields, modification of trade routes, glacier retreat, species extinction and an increase in the ranges of disease vectors.

These events destroy lives, force population migration and contribute to food and water shortages.

Based on evidence with changes in weather pattern climate change is now a reality.

Climate change is a cross cutting challenge.

“Both exposure to climate risk and the capacity to adapt are closely related to sustainable develop¬ment.

“The adaptation change cuts across key economic sectors and consequently, a wide range of policy areas,” an expert on Climate Change with the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) said.

Pacific’s most experienced journalists, Samisoni Pareti, said journalists need to “put a face and human touch on scientific and technical reports about climate change reports”.

“The Pacific was the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the world and with that comes responsibility to ensure the stories of people affected were told in the most simple and accurate manner possible,” Mr Pareti said.

For many of our small island states it even means threats of submersion and being displaced - issues that strike at the heart of lost identities, cultures and ways of life, a heart-wrenching reality.

There have been discussions of relocation for people in Tuvalu and Kiribati to countries like New Zealand and Australia.

But we are yet to see whether these bigger countries can accept these environmental refugees.

Therefore developed nation must and should listen to smaller nations who most vulnerable to the reality of climate change.

Its a message which continue to be preached and brought to emitters of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

This year, the push to have bigger nation listening to us is still important.

If they care to listen and are responsible then they can guarantee our survival as a nation in this planet earth.

By MOFFAT MAMU

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