As the world gets warmer and with waves encroaching ever closer, an entire island nation is on the verge of vanishing beneath rapidly rising sea levels. And pretty soon, an unprecedented mass exodus is set to begin.
While the scenario sounds a lot like the plot from some preachy doomsday movie, it's actually an extremely dire situation facing the people of Kiribati, a republic located along a chain of islands that stretch across the central Pacific.
For the past few years, Anote Tong, the country's president, has been working feverishly to secure a new home for his citizens. His last-ditch effort to save the people involves purchasing roughly 5,000 acres of land on Vanua Levu, a neighboring island that belongs to the nation of Fiji. As of now, most of the population, which totals 113,000 people, have sought refuge near the Capital in Tarawa, an atoll or a chain of raised coral islets that resembles a horseshoe surrounding a lagoon.
"This is the last resort, there's no way out of this one," Mr Tong told the Telegraph. "Our people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages."
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Previously, President Tong had considered a number of high-tech solutions. There was a plan in place to relocate the population to man-made islands that were comparable to living quarters found on oil rigs. The idea of building giant sea walls to block out the tide was also floated, but ultimately deemed to costly. He eventually settled on a somewhat less drastic course of action that involves a careful migration pattern, starting with a wave of productive workers to initially contribute and build good relations with the native people of Fiji. In an effort to improve their prospects for acceptance as productive members of society, he's even created an Education for Migration program for locals to upgrade their skills.
Kiribati is comprised of 32 islands and one raised atoll spread out over 1.3 million square miles. Of the combined land mass, much of it sits about 2 meters above sea level and is expected to be submerged by 2030. New Scientists reports that the effects of climate change has caused devastating droughts, the loss of coconut trees, drinking water shortages due to the flow of saltwater into drinking wells, according to New Scientist.
Islands located in this particular region of the Pacific are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels, as Stanford University climatologist Stephen H. Schneider explains in a Washington Post report:
Stanford University climatologist Stephen H. Schneider, who is helping oversee a major international assessment of how climate change could expose humans and the environment to new vulnerabilities, said countries respond differently to the global warming issue in part because they are affected differently by it. The small island nation of Kiribati is made up of 33 small atolls, none of which is more than 6.5 feet above the South Pacific, and it is only a matter of time before the entire country is submerged by the rising sea.
"For Kiribati, the tipping point has already occurred," Schneider said. "As far as they're concerned, it's tipped, but they have no economic clout in the world."
"For those who believe climate change is about some distant future, I invite them to Kiribati. Climate change is not about tomorrow. It is lapping at our feet – quite literally in Kiribati and elsewhere," said United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon in a speech last week.
A world in the balance:
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