Tuvalu, located in the Pacific Ocean, is classified by the United Nations Development Programme as “extremely vulnerable” to the effects of climate change, given the IPCC report that global average sea levels could now rise by up to 1.1m by 2100, up 10 cm on previous estimates.
The fourth smallest nation in the world, Tuvalu is home to just over 11 000 people, most of whom live on the largest island of Fongafale, where they are packed in and fighting for space.
Tuvalu’s total land area accounts for less than 26 square kilometres and at its narrowest point, Fongafale stretches just 20m across.
Its residents are on their way to become the world’s first climate-change refugees.
Seen from the air, Tuvalu looks like paradise: a slim scar of sand densely planted with coconut palms, and ringed by shallow emerald waters.
But up close, the fragility of the land reveals itself. Beside the runway, golden sand spills on to the concrete, and scraggly green grass struggles to survive. The horizon is flat, and dominated by sea; sea that presses at you from every side.
There is one airport, one bank, one hospital and one road that spans the length of the island. No matter where one stands on the island, it’s possible to see across the entire area with ease.
However, most of the older generation do not want to move as they believe the will lose their identity, culture, lifestyle and traditions.
Tuvalu’s official government policy is to stay on the island come what may.
“Come what may,” locals say again and again, quoting the Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, “God will save us.”
Evacuating the islands is the last resort, says PM Sopoaga, despite frequent talk from Pacific neighbours that Tuvaluans will become the world’s first climate-change refugees.
Fiji has repeatedly offered land to the Tuvaluan government to relocate their population 1,200km south, an offer the Sopoaga government has not accepted.
Already, two of Tuvalu’s nine islands are on the verge of going under, the government says, swallowed by sea-rise and coastal erosion. Most of the islands sit barely three metres above sea level.
Scientists predict Tuvalu could become uninhabitable in the next 50 to 100 years. Locals say they feel it could be much sooner. — Online.