Banaban Voice

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First wave - The presidents of two island nations draft escape plans, anticipating sea level rise

By Cristine Russell
February 28th, 2009; Vol.175 #5 (p. 24)

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Much of the Maldives, including the land on which the Malé International Airport sits, is already very near sea level. Peter Essick/Aurora/Getty Images

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Tiaon Bwere, seen here in 2006, battles one of the extremely high tides that wash into seaside villages of the South Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Low-lying coastal areas could be the first to experience one of global warming’s biggest effects, rising sea level. Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, © Greenpeace

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Much of the land of the Maldives and Kiribati is about 2 meters above present-day sea level. Below are three predictions for how many meters the ocean could rise this century. Maps: NOAA/NGDC; Graphic: J. Korenblat

“If we are unable to save countries like the Maldives, it may be too late to save the rest of the world from the apocalyptic effects of self-reinforcing, runaway global warming,” Nasheed said.
He plans to start investing tourism proceeds in a sovereign wealth fund. “This trust fund will act as a national insurance policy to help pay for a new homeland, should future generations have to evacuate a country disappearing under the waves,” said Nasheed. “For the sake of the Maldives and the rest of the world, I hope this fund never needs to be used for its ultimate purpose.”

London-educated Anote Tong, president of Kiribati since 2003, has traveled the globe throughout his presidency, speaking to the United Nations and at other international gatherings about how climate change threatens his nation’s survival. He is not optimistic about getting new land elsewhere, so he has proposed a different solution: starting to send his citizens offshore now, before they are forced to evacuate later. He is already asking for help from nearby countries, including Australia and New Zealand, to train a steady stream of Kiribati’s

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