World's first climate refugees to settle in Bougainville

Issue 

According to an October 29 Papua New Guinea Post Courier report, the first 40 families from Carterets Island, a small atoll that is part of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARB), are expected to move to mainland Bougainville by March next year.

According to a June 8 Irinnews.org report, the 1500 inhabitants of the Carteret Island "are fast becoming the world's first climate refugees".

"Sea levels around the atoll have risen 10cm in the past 20 years, inundating plantations, and the situation is deteriorating, islanders told IRIN, saying they urgently need assistance to be relocated to higher ground."

As sea levels rise, food has started running out as the island's staple of coconuts are wiped out.

Chief executive officer of local NGO Tulele Peisa, Ursula Rakova, told Irinnews.org: "Salt water seeps through the land making it impossible for food to grow.

"Breadfruit is seasonal and not as plentiful as it was 30 years ago and fruits are getting smaller in size … bananas struggle to grow in the salt-inundated land."

According to Irinnews.org, Rakova said that Carteret residents worry that an enormous wave could wipe them out. "People see with their naked eyes the impact of the rising sea levels", she said. "The atolls are going down and going down really fast."

According to the Post Courier, the 40 families "are still negotiating with landowners of Baniu Plantation for the piece of land which they will resettle on as their permanent home under the major climate change resettlement exercise".

The resettlement is expected to cost Bougainville and the central PNG government millions of dollars, the article reported.

The article also reported that one third of the population has "refused to leave their island because they claimed they had spent all their lives there" and "would sink and vanish with the island".

Rakovoa told Irinnews.org that, "Carteret islanders are victims of climate change and … industrialised nations have to support my people in their transition from the atolls to mainland Bougainville".

She said that they "need financial support and Tulele Peisa needs [$280,000] to build 10 family homes on the land donated by the Catholic church of Bougainville".

The article pointed out that the ARB is "recovering from a civil war that took the lives of more than 20,000 people. The PNG government granted autonomy to Bougainville in June 2005. With minimum funding from the PNG government, ABG is struggling to provide assistance to its 200,000-plus people."

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