Taking the cue, I am sending a very poignant piece I have received on the plight of Pacific islanders due to the rising sea level in their region. How about firing a debate around this?
S.O.S.: Pacific islanders battle to save what is left of their country
from rising seas
By Kathy Marks in Tuvalu
Published: 16 July 2007
Veu Lesa, a 73-year-old villager in Tuvalu, does not need scientific
reports to tell him that the sea is rising. The evidence is all around
him. The beaches of his childhood are vanishing. The crops that used to
feed his family have been poisoned by salt water. In April, he had to
leave his home when a "king tide" flooded it, showering it with rocks
For Tuvalu, a string of nine picturesque atolls and coral islands,
global warming is not an abstract danger; it is a daily reality. The
tiny South Pacific nation, only four metres above sea level at its
highest point, may not exist in a few decades. Its people are already in
flight; more than 4,000 live in New Zealand, and many of the remaining
10,500 are planning to join the exodus. Others, though, are determined
to stay and try to fight the advancing waves.
The outlook is bleak. A tidal gauge on the main atoll, Funafuti,
suggests the sea level is climbing by 5.6mm a year, twice the average
global rate predicted by the UN's International Panel on Climate Change
There is not enough data yet to establish a definitive trend but that
figure is alarming, implying a rise of more than half a metre in the
next century. Most Tuvaluans live just one to two metres above sea level.
Funafuti's tranquil lagoon is adorned by a necklace of cream islets,
each one tufted with dense vegetation. There used to be seven. Now there
are six. The other one disappeared after a series of cyclones in the
late 1990s. First, the palm trees were stripped off, then the sand, then
the soil beneath. All that remains is a forlorn scrap of rubble, visible
at low tide. It is an ominous indicator, in miniature, of what awaits
Tuvalu's larger, populated islands.
Of all the low-lying nations menaced by global warming, little Tuvalu
has been most vocal in the international arena. It recognised the threat
early on, and successive governments have lobbied hard to alert the
outside world to its predicament. The country - formerly one half of the
Gilbert and Ellice Islands, a British protectorate - joined the UN and
the Commonwealth in order to raise its profile, and sent diplomats on
Six or seven years on, Tuvaluans concluded that the international
community - particularly the big industrialised nations puffing vast
quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - does not care. "They
never listened when we asked for help," says Enate Evi, director of the
Environment Department. "To be honest, I think they only care about
themselves, and their economic advantage. That's how it feels, sitting
At the primary school in Funafuti, children learn about climate change
from the age of six. Most expect to emigrate. "Because my home island
will sink under the water, and there will be no place for me to live,"
explains Vaimaila Teitala, aged 12. Manuao Taloka, 13, says: "Australia
and America and England don't take notice of us because we're too small,
and they want to keep their factories and cars."
This could be the last generation of children to grow up in Tuvalu,
situated in a remote corner of the Pacific, north of Fiji. "When the
tide comes, I'll be under the ground," says Temu Hauma, the school
principal. "But I'll definitely be encouraging my kids to move. Why stay
here if they haven't got a future?"
It is not so much the prospect of the islands gradually being swamped
that worries the locals. It is the extreme weather events they are
already experiencing, and which will make their homeland uninhabitable
long before the land is submerged. The ever-more invasive spring tides,
like the increasingly frequent and devastating cyclones, are associated
with global warming.
But some Tuvaluans refuse to accept that their nation is lost. Older
people in this devoutly Christian country cite God's promise to Noah
that the earth will never again be flooded. Others interpret the Bible
less literally but question why they should have to leave the country
"We are facing the music of climate change but it's not of our making,"
says Suseo Silo, the government's disaster co-ordinator. His counterpart
at the local branch of the Red Cross, Tatua Pese, says: "We don't want
to lose our identity, our motherland. I just hope a miracle will happen."
Despair has now given way to defiance, impotence to pragmatism.
Tuvaluans are trying to help themselves. They are dreaming up ways to
adjust to the changing conditions, and even reducing their own minuscule
emissions of greenhouse gases - in the hope of shaming the big polluters
Villagers are exchanging taro, their traditional root vegetable, for
more saline resistant crops. They are economising on water to cope with
lengthening droughts. They are building houses on stilts, to escape the
high tides, and assembling survival kits.
But there is a limit to how far you can adapt when your total living
space is 26 sq km, most of it pancake-flat and comprising slivers of
land that can be walked across in a minute or two. In Tuvalu, there is
no continental interior, and hardly any high ground, to retreat to.
Nearly half the population lives squashed together on Funafuti's main
islet, Fongafale, which is so skinny that, from most spots, you can see
the dark blue ocean on one side and the turquoise lagoon on the other.
The widest area contains a runway built by American forces during the
Second World War, which the locals - in between the twice-weekly flights
from Fiji - use as their backyard. Football and rugby matches are staged
on the tarmac. Children hare up and down the runway on bikes. Stray dogs
wander across it. People even sleep there on hot nights, to catch the
breeze. Just before the plane lands, a fire engine sounds a siren to
clear everybody off.
Opposite the airport, in an imposing new building funded by Taiwan, the
government is evaluating a recently completed national adaptation plan.
But the plan's author, Pone Saavee, has already left for New Zealand and
most senior public figures admit, if you probe, that they are
formulating their own exit strategy. Tuvalu is losing its best and
brightest, and the place has the air of a sinking ship.
Official policy is to assist those who wish to emigrate, but to continue
working for Tuvalu's future. "We still haven't given up hope of living
here," says Kelesoma Saloa, private secretary to the Prime Minister,
Apisai Ielemia. "But, reading the latest IPCC report, and with the
icecaps melting so fast, my personal feeling is we're fighting against
Tuvaluans are laid-back, charming people. They laugh a lot, even when
contemplating their nation's extinction. They live a simple, communal
life. The country earns an income from licensing fishing rights. A few
years back it sold its internet domain suffix - .tv - for about £25m.
A sizeable chunk of that was used to seal Funafuti's dirt roads. The
locals, who used to walk or cycle, bought cars and motorbikes. Now the
government is trying to persuade them to walk or cycle, conscious of
Tuvalu's part, however tiny, in burning fossil fuels.
On the islet of Amatuku, just north of Funafuti, 30 pigs slumber in a
pen, blissfully unaware of the modest part they are playing in tackling
a global crisis. Their waste is being processed to produce methane gas,
which will be piped to households and used for cooking and power. The
project was set up by a French charity, Alofa Tuvalu.
Such measures, though, will not change much. "We can tell people to turn
off lights and recycle rubbish but the sea level will still rise unless
the big countries reduce their emissions," says Mr Pese, the Red Cross
Tuvalu's coral reefs are bleaching, and fishermen are having to travel
further afield. Mr Salo, the prime minister's aide, says: "There will
come a point when we can't grow anything in the ground, when all the
trees start dying and we can't get shelter."
The king tides are a new phenomenon. When they strike, the land is
almost level with the ocean, and waves break right across the island.
The water table is so high that it seeps up through the earth. Among the
buildings flooded is the Meteorological Office, which has photographs on
its wall of children surfing past its front door.
What everyone fears is a cyclone coinciding with a king tide. "It would
wipe out most of Funafuti," says Taula Katea, the Met Office's acting
New Zealand is prepared to take in 75 Tuvaluans a year. But Keitona
Tausi, general secretary of the Tuvalu Congregational Christian Church,
says: "I'm really against this scheme. People should stay and develop
Tuvalu. If we can work together, we can help our country. But not if
Mr Tausi claims some people who have gone to New Zealand regret it.
"They gave up good white-collar jobs here, and now they're picking
Saufatu Sopoanga, a former prime minister and an eloquent advocate for
his nation, is irritated by assumptions that Tuvalu is doomed. "This
type of thinking makes donors reluctant to come forward," he says. "How
can they say Tuvalu is doomed when they haven't done anything to help
us? The leaders of industrialised nations need to do something real,
rather than just talk. There's already been two decades of just talking."
The fact is that Tuvalu could survive. Drastic cuts in carbon emissions
would slow the process of global warming. The countries that have caused
its problems could help it find solutions - building well designed sea
walls, for instance, or dredging sand from the lagoon to raise the level
of the land.
The latter scheme would cost £1.3m - a princely sum for Tuvalu, but a
drop in the ocean for Australia or the US, neither of which have signed
the Kyoto protocol.
It could be argued Tuvalu is a minute place and few outsiders would miss
it. It could also be argued wealthy nations have a moral responsibility
Back in Veu Lesa's village, the old man's daughter-in- law, Lei Aso, is
feeding her baby, Lilipa. Does she expect her to spend her life in
Tuvalu? Lei Aso looks at me with sad eyes and fans herself, silently.