While talking to a friend the other day, being inquired what am I doing these days I was astonished when he said that you are a Pakistani journalist, write about issues from Pakistan. Interesting as it might sound yes I do write about issues faced by Pakistan but that does not stop me from opening my eyes to the rest of the world. I consider this globe my home and feel passionate to write about other places too. No matter how big or small those places are, just like a small island state Antigua and Barbuda I read about recently. I think I shouldn’t necessarily be from that place to raise the concern which that small island state is facing.
In 1982 this Caribbean small island state, less than one-year at that time, proposed to the United Nations that Antarctica should be considered a global common just like deep-sea bed and should be dealt and managed by the UN for the good of humankind. At that time the concern put forward by Antigua and Barbuda looked vague but now as the polar ice is melting, threatening small islands as they drown the proposition made in 1982 have become apparent. As it turned out Antigua and Barbuda had recently been an independent nation and thus lacking resources to continue to press the case for Antarctica being declared by UN a global common. The few countries given responsibility to decide the future of Antarctica failed to reach a consensus albeit having many discussions over a period of time.
Now there is clear evidence that the pristine condition of Antarctica raised in 1982 in the UN was very valid. Climate change in the Antarctica and Arctic and the ongoing human activity in the region have adverse affects on the small island making them vulnerable to flooding. It is not just small island states many coastal areas of big countries are also facing similar threats. For the Islanders it’s a red flag raised on various occasions, with the rise of sea levels due to climate change they face an unprecedented challenge.
The rise in sea level spurred by glacial melting in the polar regions of the world is an open secret. Burying our heads in the sand won’t let us get away with this issue. It will only make things worse in the future. Many researchers and scientists have made connections between climate change, human activities and a rise in extreme weather conditions, drawing our attention to an obvious risky situation.
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The recent flooding in the Balkans reported as worst flooding in over 120 years is a case in point. Here it can be seen that it is not just the severity of climate change but the lack of resources to cushion people against the climate related disasters that will determine peoples’ fate.
So what are these small island developing States? There are 51 states and territories classified as small island developing States (SIDS) by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. These small islands developing states are located across Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans including the Caribbean Sea. The climate of SIDS of tropical and sub-tropical oceans is influenced by ocean atmosphere interactions resulting in cyclones, hurricanes, coral bleaching, erosion and inundation of land. Cyclones accounted for seventy six percent of the reported disasters in the Pacific Islands from 1950 to 2004. The climate in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean is dominated by North Atlantic subtropical high and Asian monsoon system respectively. The climate characteristics prevailing in the SIDS and their socio economic conditions make small island developing States most susceptible in the world to climate change.
Considering the fact that SIDS produce extremely low levels of greenhouse gases suggests that they will suffer unduly from the damaging impacts of climate change. Already facing similar sustainable development challenges like low availability of resources, vulnerability to natural disasters, dependence on international trade and small population the small island developing States suffer from costly administration and public infrastructure with weak economies.
The small island developing states are already experiencing the adverse affects of climate change with the sea level rise impacting the economies. The potential threats have made some islands like Kiribati, Maldives and Tuvalu uninhabitable. Changes in precipitation affecting drinking water and agriculture, sea level temperatures affecting fisheries and the extremities causing damage to the infrastructure have forced communities to leave putting the nations’ sovereignty at stake.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1992 that was ratified by 195 parties has a role to play. The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC, no more effective, was a treaty making it binding on the industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. The UNFCCC was there to protect by laying down targets for the reduction or limitation of greenhouse gases in this highly industrialized world. With various Conferences of the Parties (COP) held in exotic destinations like Cancun, Durban and Copenhagen etc it was seen that all these forums ended up being termed as failed dialogues, even the UN Earth Summit was labeled as a failed summit as no concrete decisions were taken by the powerful head of states to curb the menace of climate change. Now we have to wait till 2015 to see if there will ever be a significant step taken to resolve the issue or at least try to be honest about it.
With all these conferences and summits being held in a safe and luxurious environment every year, the Islanders are still facing the threats unaware that their future is in the hands of a few. It makes no difference in their lives whatsoever. Far away in the island of Kiribati many might not even know of UNFCCC or what this Kyoto protocol is all about.
Kiribati, pronounced KIR-e-bass, the local version of Gilbert, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean will start to disappear in 2030 according to some researchers because of the rising seas. Where will the people of Kiribati go? Many Islands face the threat of drowning not just Kiribati. I remember once being enchanted by a magical dance performance by the people of Samoa and Fiji, always smiling. The happy people of these various Islands deserve to be protected not letting the greed of a few wipe them out of the face of earth.
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The President of Kiribati, a nation of 33 islands, Anote Tong has already started lobbying other nations to begin accepting his inhabitants 103,000 in number as climate refugees. He is also urging industrial nations like US to do more to control the rising tides. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, 68 percent of the carbon is emitted by half of world’s population, wreaking climate hardships on smaller countries. The leaders of industrialized nations have been quiet and resisted to pay attention and come to aid for the societies at risk. China became the world’s top carbon emitter in 2007 due to the rapid development. Similarly US, India, Russia and Germany are contributing to the unpleasant fate of the SIDS.If scientists are right in their estimations, the ocean will swallow the island nation of Kiribati sooner than it seems. Water expands when it warms and lately the oceans received alarming amounts of melted ice.
The oceans are absorbing 15 times faster heat than the last 100,000 years according to some recent studies. Before drowning though the islands will experience the poisoning of its inadequate supply of fresh water. The apocalypse can come sooner for Kiribati if the storms like the ones that struck Philippines and Haiti strikes the island. These are some reasons that will led to a mass migration forcing 103,000 citizens of Kiribati to leave their land resulting perhaps in the first migration due to global warming rather than famine or war.
The president of Kiribati is visiting various places in search of a place to move his people. No country so far has expressed interest in accommodating the people of Kiribati that is very much obvious when it comes to migration. However in Fiji the president of Kiribati has bought 6,000 acres of land to accommodate the inhabitants, apparently to the dismay of Fiji’s military rulers. It is sad to see that there is not enough room on this planet to accommodate some inhabitants of this world.
The inhabitants of Kiribati have lived peacefully with their surrounding for the past 3000 years. The ocean met their needs for food and the atolls gave them coconut palms, a reservoir gave them fresh water making them invisible to the world. Some historians believe that the people of Kiribati descended from the migrants from Indonesia. The invaders from Samoa and Tonga also mixed with the locals over a period of time. Surviving Japanese and British invasion one can see the remains of the war like a massive Japanese gun placed on one of the islands of Kiribati. The Gilberts got independence in the late 70s when the British mining companies took the last guano deposits from the islet of Banaba, leaving Kiribati in a half developed state. Besides the sea level rise and saltwater inundation Kiribati is facing a crippling disease burden. There are other problems that plague the nation including many diseases that afflict hundreds like leprosy, tuberculosis and diabetes.
In an interview the president of Kiribati said that the Obama administration does care about the issue but there are people in the Congress allergic to the term climate change. He said he wants those people to visit Kiribati before it’s too late. When in need we always look for help from the privileged ones and the ones who are satiated have a huge responsibility to act conscientiously when faced with certain challenges. In a way the powerful nations when asked for help do have constraints whereas in reality these powerful nations are the cause of most problems being faced by the SDIS more or less. The sea level rise that has affected the entire cycle causing various problems is undoubtedly the result of high carbon emissions by the powerful nations.
Just like Kiribati Tuvalu is another island, the fourth smallest country in the world which most of us haven’t heard about. The anonymity of these islands will surely to come to an end when they are wiped from the face of this planet attracting the media craving for bad news. It is sad to know that in my life there will be places in the world that will become non-existent. The entire countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Republic of Marshall Islands and Maldives are particularly at risk of extinction. Most coastal communities face similar environmental struggle especially these places whose inhabitants are living at sea level. I have never had the opportunity yet to visit these paradise islands though I wish that I get to see these islands thriving with life instead of mere remnants left from a haunted past.
While searching on Google about the small island developing States I did come across many stories from the Islanders themselves crying for help to the international community. I also read stories of relocation of villages in many places. For the islanders it is not about survival, they will be finished if drowned. Struggling to get asylum in other places many Islanders did admit that they don’t want to leave their home as their spirits live here.
It’s safe for many of us to say that we haven’t heard of these places. Some environmental activists are struggling to put the concerns of the Islanders forward in all those posh UN conferences asking for action. But to be honest when it comes to policy development and industrialized nations taking action we fail again and again. We are doing the same things again and again expecting different results, Einstein rightly called that phenomenon stupidity.
Keeping our greed aside and letting all this stop is in our hands. Today it might be people of Kiribati but tomorrow it can any one of us saving ourselves from the floods caused by the unending greed of those hidden faces who have the authority to decide our future. They are the ones who are there to determine whether we should live or die.
Kiribati a nation that barely contributes to climate change will be losing everything because of it, they have to suffer not because of their own mistakes but because of the mistakes of others. I want to ask all these world leaders a question. What did you do in Copenhagen, Cancun or for that matter Brazil? These leaders leading nations are accountable to the people they represent.
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