Friday, April 17, 2009

We must protect communities who face climate change displacement

Robin Bronen in the Guardian (UK): In Alaska, climate change is creating an unforeseen humanitarian crisis. Arctic sea ice – which had protected communities from coastal erosion and flooding – is rapidly disappearing and signalling a radical transformation of this northern ecosystem. Scientific observations during the summer of 2007 documented a new record low.

In 2006, the US government completed a $2.5m (£1.7m) seawall to protect the native village of Kivalina, located on an island in the Chukchi Sea. But on the day of the dedication ceremony, a storm surge partly destroyed the newly constructed sea barrier. One year later, the community was evacuated to protect inhabitants from a severe storm.

The situation looks set to get worse. Winter temperatures along the northern Alaskan coast have increased an average of 3.5C (38.3F)since 1975. These warming temperatures are causing the arctic seas to freeze later in autumn and the permafrost – usually permanently frozen subsoil – to thaw. Along the northwestern Alaskan coast, permafrost is the glue that keeps the land intact and habitable.

Approximately 200 indigenous villages that have inhabited the arctic for millennia are located along Alaska's coasts and rivers. Dozens of these communities are now endangered because of accelerating erosion and flooding. Five indigenous communities, located along the Bering and Chukchi Seas, have concluded that relocation is the only durable solution to the climatic events that are threatening their lives.

Government agencies now realise that erosion and flooding control can no longer protect these coastal communities. In 2006, a US government report found that relocation of three communities is required because a catastrophic climatic event could submerge them within 10-15 years. Despite these dire predictions, no community has yet been relocated because of the governance issues that must be addressed to facilitate relocation. The report recognised that no government agency has the authority to relocate communities, no governmental organisation exists that can address the strategic planning needs of relocation, and no funding is specifically designated for relocation….

An aerial view of Kivalina, Alaska, by the US Army Corps of Engineers

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