The projected rise in sea level would mean that 40% of buildings in the Marshall Islands’ capital, Majuro, would be permanently flooded and entire islands would disappear, potentially costing the Pacific country its status as a nation, according to a new report. devastating from the World Bank. .
The report, Mapping the Marshall Islands, which contains grim visualizations of the impact of sea level rise on the Marshall Islands, has been two years in the making and was shared exclusively with The Guardian before publication in the coming weeks.
The Marshall Islands are a country in the North Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. It has a population of 59,000 and a landmass of only 180 square kilometers, consisting of 1,156 individual islands. It is one of the countries considered to be at the highest risk of disappearing due to rising sea levels.
Artessa Saldivar-Sali, the World Bank disaster risk management specialist who led the work on the report, said the model shows that the Marshall Islands could lose important and crucial parts of its land and infrastructure.
“With a sea level rise of 1 meter, we project that around 40% of the buildings in the capital, Majuro, would be permanently flooded, permanently flooded. So that’s a pretty big impact, ”he said.
In addition to every two out of every five buildings to be permanently flooded, up to 96% of the city, with a population of 20,000, would face frequent flooding.
“It has always been a dark future, but now that dark future is becoming clearer,” said Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, poet and climate envoy from the Marshall Islands.
“I remember reading the report for the first time and thinking, ‘Oh, this is what it will look like, that’s what it’s going to cause,’ and none of that feels good. I can definitely say that it is a really difficult report to pass. “
Jetñil-Kijiner said he was surprised to learn that his island would be so affected.
“One of the islands listed as 100% underwater, completely covered, is Jaluit, which is actually the island my family comes from,” he said. “It is the land that gives my daughter its name. So when I saw that, I had to tell my family that this is about to happen, they should be aware of this. It really hit hard. “
The model made for the report is unique in that it combines sea level rise and flood scenarios with the geography of exposure to population, assets, buildings, and other infrastructure to better determine actual impacts. Its visualization tool shows a building-by-building breakdown of what various sea level rises would mean for the atoll nation.
Saldivar-Sali said that by being so specific with the model, they can better assess the broader impacts.
“It is coastal erosion, more houses falling into the sea, significant loss of land and salt water that intrudes on fresh water sources, which obviously has a really big impact on agriculture and the availability of water supplies.” , said.
“With this level of flooding, for daily life to continue, some serious adaptation measures would be necessary, such as raising floor levels, raising ground levels or relocating buildings inland. However, all of these options come at a cost. With the details provided in the study, schools, businesses, and home developers could see where low-cost options (such as moving a construction site a few feet) will have long-term benefits in adapting to and dealing with increased growth. sea level “.
In addition to the effects on individual livelihoods and the environment, the loss of land also presents a legal problem for the Marshall Islands.
“A key issue is the way in which international law draw the difference between an island and just a rockit’s whether this piece of territory is capable of sustaining human and economic life on its own, ”said Duygu Çiçek, author of Legal Dimensions of Sea Level Rise, who advised the World Bank on the report.
“Under international law, statehood is established under the presumption that they will continue to be a state, with stability, a defined territory and a population. Therefore, the question remains whether the territorial elements of the Marshall Islands that are challenged by rising sea levels would lead to a deterioration of statehood, ”he said.
Another legal concern for the Marshall Islands brought on by rising sea levels is the loss of its vast exclusive maritime zone and thus access to crucial fisheries that provide much of the country’s food and contribute significantly to its GDP. .
This is something that the Pacific island nations, including the Marshall Islands, are well aware of and have begun to take action.
In a statement released by the Pacific Islands Forum in August, Pacific leaders pledged to set maritime zone baselines, so that should islands shrink or disappear, nations retain the same amount of ocean territory.
Saldivar-Sali said the new report, while highlighting a bleak future, should empower decision makers and communities to understand their options.
“This could include things like raising land, reclaiming land, or even consolidating the population within an island. For the people of the Marshall Islands, international migration is the option of last resort, ”he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism