David Longstreath/AP
Residents fish Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007, on the island of New Britain, Papua New
Guinea near Kimbe Bay. (AP)

Are Papua New Guineans the World’s First Climate Refugees?

June 14, 2008 09:27 AM
by Shannon Firth
A recent report by IRIN claims that inhabitants of Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Islands are the world’s first climate refugees. Others disagree.

30-Second Summary

Rising sea levels have flooded plantations and are threatening villagers of the Carteret Island in Papua New Guinea, reports U.N. operated humanitarian news organization IRIN, in an article titled, “Papua New Guinea: Home to the world’s first climate refugees.”

“Food gardens and coconut groves have been destroyed and children are going to school hungry,” Ursula Rakova, chief executive officer of Tulele Peisa, a local nongovernmental organization, said.

Rakova’s NGO hopes to raise $280,000 to build ten homes for islanders at higher elevation on the main land. While Papua New Guinea’s government raised funds for relocation in 2007, the ABG, Autonomous Bougainville Government, split the money across four islands, despite the fact that the people of the Carteret Island merited relocation.

While predictions of the Carteret Island’s looming disappearance have been in circulation for some time, the IRIN’s statement that the island’s inhabitants are “the first climate refugees” isn’t entirely accurate. The Independent, a daily newspaper in the U.K., reported that while the Carteret Islands were expected to be the first to vanish, the Lohachara Island in India’s Bay of Bengal, a 7,500-acre landmass, “has beaten them to the dubious distinction.”

Moreover, a report from the Science and Public Policy Institute, which took issue with many of the claims in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” stated, “The problem with the Carteret Islands, mentioned by Ms. Kreider, [Al Gore’s environmental advisor] arose not because of rising sea levels but because of imprudent dynamiting of the reefs by local fishermen.”

Steve Nerem, a researcher from the University of Colorado, told the BBC, “There’s a lot of evidence out there that we’re going to see at least a metre of sea level rise by 2100.” Nerem qualified his statement by saying that predicting sea levels is still an uncertain science.

Headline Links: Climate change refugees

Background: Lohachara

Related Topics: The Pacific Community and food costs


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