Journey to the Sinking Lands

A witness to the world's first evacuation of an entire people due to climate change

The view from Buka

buka-harbourSince arriving I’ve been speaking to as many people as I can, which isn’t difficult in a town as friendly as this one (that’s a photo of the harbour, where boats are unloaded for the neighbouring food market. This is piled high with fruit carried in baskets woven from palm leaves, salted fish, cakes, and things I couldn’t identify. I’m still not sure what I had for lunch.) I’ve alearned a lot about the evacuation of the Carterets that never seemed to filter through to the news at home. For starters, it’s not just the Carterets that is involved. Three other atolls and one island will also see their people leave because of rising sea levels. The regional government here plans to bring them to Buka a few hundred at a time, over a decade. The Carterets have had all the attention, and are the priority, but there are estimates of up to 8000 people affected, all told.

Reverend Ben, who counts the atolls’ people among his flock, told me the sea has risen so far that all the crops have died, and the drinking water been poisoned by salt. All that has survived for the Carterets people to eat is coconuts alone. A boat of emergency rations does get sent from Buka to feed them, but only when the money can be found – it’s supposed to go four times a year, but the reality is more like half that often. And it seems tough that Bougainville (the region of which Buka is the capital) is left to manage all this alone. People here are still recovering from the civil war that ended a decade ago. They have other priorities too; building a second hospital, getting people to hand in their guns. But they are optimistic and hope to ask the industrial world to help with the relocation. From Buka is that it’s hard to see how we could refuse.

ps. something quite exiting might be happening tomorrow (certainty goes out the window in PNG). You will be the first to know.

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