For nations and communities that sit only a few metres above sea level, even small ocean rises engulf their land and send destructive salty water into their food supply, leaving residents with little choice but to flee. World sea levels rose 3.1 millimetres (0.12 inch) per year from 1993 to 2003, the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said.
As sea levels have crept higher, the coasts have eroded, corals have been bleached, and islanders' staple foods such as the giant Babai taro, coconut and banana are unable to grow in salty soil. Drinking water is being contaminated with sea water, while extreme weather events beat coastlines, and fish are no longer abundant. On the Carterets, where one island has been split in two by the encroaching sea, Rakova said hunger and desperation were sending the young men to mainland Papua New Guinea, or spiralling into depression.
"They talk about climate change as if it is something that might happen in the distant future, something that might happen in 2020 or 2050 or even in 2100," said Tony Mohr, of the Australian Conservation Foundation. "However vibrant cultures and communities of the Pacific are already experiencing climate change."
Islanders are urging the world to do all it can to reduce greenhouse gases and stop history repeating itself on other small islands. "If this continues, maybe we will be left with three coconuts. We may be clinging to a very small piece of land. Where is our future?" said Kiribati's Arobati.
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