Bikini Atoll & Environmental Refugees

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I’m sure that by now everybody living in Europe, if not the larger world, has heard about the so called “migrant crisis” in which thousands of people are seeking a way in to Europe and perceived safety. What may have gone under the radar, however, is a much smaller story the BBC published yesterday on the plea of the displaced Bikini Islanders for relocation to the United States (see story here). The people of Bikini Atoll were relocated in 1946 to one of the Marshall Islands when their original home was used for atomic testing by the United States. This new home, Kili Island, seemed at the time a good place to relocate them to but today increasing sea levels pose significant challenges to their long term settlement. Widespread flooding as a result of King Tides (the term for unusually high tides) saw widespread flooding occur in both 2011 and this year (2015). More importantly, the long term sustainability of agriculture and drinking water is threatened by rising water tables and salt water intrusions. Luckily, the United States is considering a proposal to alter the terms on a trust fund set up when the islanders were relocated so that they may be moved to the American mainland. If such an event was to occur this would almost certainly set a precedent in the way governments deal with their responsibility to protect distant peoples and territory from the threats of sea level rise.

Famously Tuvalu brought the issue of climate changes global effects to the United Nations in 2002 when they closed their address to the General Assembly as such:

“In the event that the situation is not reversed, where does the international community think the Tuvalu people are to hide from the onslaught of sea level rise? Taking us as environmental refugees, is not what Tuvalu is after in the long run. We want the islands of Tuvalu and our nation to remain permanently and not be submerged as a result of greed and uncontrolled consumption of industrialized countries. We want our children to grow up the way my wife and I did in our own islands and in our own culture.

We once again appeal to the industrialized countries, particularly those who have not done so, to urgently ratify and fully implement the Kyoto Protocol, and to provide concrete support in all our adaptation efforts to cope with the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Tuvalu, having little or nothing to do with the causes, cannot be left on its own to pay the price. We must work together. May God Bless you all. May God Bless the United Nations.”

The issue of responsibility is often at the forefront of climate change discussions on Legislation and in the case of small, often poor, island nations it is one which not only their livelihoods but their long term sovereignty is dependent on. Without anyone to take responsibility for their losses and give them aid how will they overcome the challenges they face?

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