Climate change 'forcing' people off Pacific island


A COMMUNITY activist from the Carteret Islands in the South Pacific gave a first-hand account in Dublin last night of how its people are becoming the world’s first refugees as a result of climate change.

Part of Papua New Guinea, the Carterets are experiencing unprecedented high tides, which are rapidly covering the fragile low-lying atolls, destroying the soil for food production and forcing the community to move to a larger island, Bougainville, over 80km (50 miles) away.

Ursula Rakova, executive director of aid charity Tulele Peisa, described the situation facing the Carteret Islands as urgent and said arranging the evacuation of 1,500 islanders to Bougainville had involved delicate negotiations, particularly over land.

Blaming climate change, she told an audience in Trinity College: “It is not just us, though. It is going to happen to others right through the Pacific and in other parts of the world. The pollution has to stop. The big nations have to do something very, very urgently.”

Speaking on the first leg of a Climate Wise Women European tour, Ms Rakova said it was “all about advocacy and being able to share the stories of my people. “Climate change is here to stay and more individual advocacy will result in major climate change action.”

Constance Okollet, chair of the Osukura United Women Network in eastern Uganda, who is accompanying her on the tour, spoke about the “dramatic changes in climate” in her region, with “extreme cycles of drought and rain” making it impossible to grow traditional crops.

This was “threatening the food security of the community and limiting their ability to earn a modest living”, she said. Death by drowning, starvation or disease and disruption to children’s education are some of the other impacts of climate change experienced there.

Ms Okollet also recalled her own awakening to climate change at a community meeting organised by Oxfam that led her to understand that the problems of her people “were not an expression of God’s displeasure with them but were, in fact, caused by mankind”.

Former president Mary Robinson, who has set up her own foundation to promote climate justice, said focusing on the human dimension of climate change would let the world “see the effects of the problem differently”.