From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published January 20, 2010 03:18 PM

Sinking Islands and Their Consequences

The recent devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti is not the only environmental disaster the islands of the world face. A more long term one is the pending sea level rise that could obliterate the world's small island states, triggering fears of mass migration. However, a mass migration is not immediately likely and some of these small island nations are fighting back.


For Example the Indian Ocean island of Maldives says it has no plans to relocate its 300,000 inhabitants or purchase land in neighboring countries before the seas rise.

"Maldives does not have a relocation plan and had at no time ever considered relocation to another country, either in the neighborhood or any other area," Ambassador Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, the permanent representative of Maldives to the United Nations.

Still, the Pacific Small Island Developing States, which includes countries such as Fiji, Palau, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu, have not ruled out the possibility of relocating before disaster strikes.

Ambassador Stuart Beck of Palau says that displacement to a neighboring or third country "might be the only option if climate change continues at the current or increased rate without significant and urgent mitigation by the international community."

Mass migrations can and will occur after a natural disaster. The current Haiti problem is an example where over 200,000 people have been trying to find shelter in the neighboring Dominican Republic.  During the American "Dust Bowl" of the 1930's many fled when their farms dried up.

The International Organization for Migration has predicted that in the worst case scenario, as many as 50 million to 350 million people may have to migrate from their island nations.

In most Pacific islands, the people, agricultural land, tourist resorts and infrastructure (including roads and airports) are concentrated in the coastal zones, and are thus especially vulnerable to any rise in sea level. Determining how severe this problem is, or might be, is complicated by natural shifts in sea level associated with the recurring ice ages and tectonic action.  

The current sea level rise has occurred at a mean rate of 0.7 inches per year for the past century and more recently it has been estimated near 1.2 inches per year (1993-2003). What the future will bring as a sea rise is variable depending on the melting of the ice caps and average global temperatures. Some have predicted as much as 7 feet in the next century for example.

Fleeing is not the only option. Micronesia, a Pacific island nation, has just filed a plea to challenge plans by the Czech Republic to expand a coal fired power station some 10,000 miles away from Micronesia.

At issue is Prunerov plant is one of the largest coal fired stations in the European Union and the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the Czech Republic.  Carbon dioxide is a potential cause of global warming and hence sea level rise.

"The Federated States of Micronesia is seriously endangered by the impacts of climate change, including the flooding of its entire territory and the eventual disappearance of a portion of its state," Andrew Yatilman, director of the country's Office of Environment and Emergency Management, submitted in the plea filed with the Environment Ministry of the Czech Republic.

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