Carteret Islands: Homes are sinking

In Australasia, News Headlines, Rising Seas

Residents of Papua New Guinea’s sinking Carteret Islands are known as the world’s first climate change refugees but international attention has not translated into relief from their plight.

A relocation process started several years ago but only a handful of islanders have moved to nearby Bougainville.
They are pleading for help to save their relatives from their sinking island homes.

The isolated islands are slowly disappearing under the Pacific Ocean, with rising water inundating crops and spoiling water supplies.

Charles Tsivi moved his family to Tinputz on Bougainville’s north-east coast last year and built a house on land donated by the Catholic Church.

He says he is glad he made the move.

“I saw the population was increasing as well as that strong winds blow the waves onto the land and spoils the food gardens,” he said.

On a windy hill out the back of his new home at Tinputz, he has a large garden where he grows kaukau, banana, tapioca and cassava.

He says he grows enough to comfortably live off.

But planting a garden is something he could not do back at his old home 100 kilometres away on the Carteret Islands.

Mr Tsivi says life is better on Bougainville but he is worried about his relatives back on the Carterets.

“I’m very sorry – our mothers are there. With the food shortage we are worried about them,” he said.

“But to help them, it is hard to go across the sea. We could help them if we had boats.”

‘Enough of talking’

Ursula Rakova moved from the Carterets to Bougainville several years ago and set up the organization Tulele Peisa to raise money and campaign for her people.

She says the situation is getting desperate.

“Food scarcity; population has increased; there is fights over firewood,” she said.

“There is also arguments over the little land that is available for food crops and just over bananas and coconut trees.”

So far only two families out of a population of 2,300 have moved to Bougainville.

Ms Rakova says they need more land and more money.

“We plan to move, within the next three years, 83 families, so we are looking at 830 people,” she said.

“Then within the next 10 years [we plan to] at least move 1,700 people.”

The Carteret Islanders have made headlines around the world over the last decade.

So many journalists have visited the islands that many locals are now sick and tired of having to accommodate them.

Ms Rakova says the publicity has not translated into help from either the PNG government or the international community.

“Enough of talking,” she said.

“We’ve got to see some action in practical sense.”

With predictions that Carterets will be largely uninhabitable by 2015, time is running out for help to arrive.

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