Sea Level Rise Forces Panama Islanders to Relocate

guy underwater photo

"You're looking for the cafe? Yeah, turn left at the sunken car, and right at the seaweed grove. If you've hit fresh air, you've gone too far." We jest, but the issue of climate change refugees is indeed a worrying and immediate subject. Photo via elbragon via Flickr CC

Some of the earliest climate change refugees are those that must relocate due to rising sea levels. A threat to people living around the world, from northern Canada to the Maldives, those in Panama are currently feeling the crush of closer waves. Thousands of native Panama Islanders are being forced to move away from their ancestral homes and relocate to the mainland as sea levels rise. Reuters reports that a combination of seasonal winds, storms a high tides has become enough to submerge the islands in ankle deep water for days at a time, leaving the islanders with no choice but to move. The sea level has risen about 7 inches in the last 100 years, and the rate is accelerating with an estimate of as many as 23 inches by 2100. That leaves little choice for the Carti Sugdub inhabitants -- one of the several islands off northeastern Panama -- and 2,000 residents have plans to uproot and relocate to areas about a half-hour walk off the beaches of mainland Panama.

Reuters states, "If the islanders abandon their homes as planned, the exodus will be one of the first blamed on rising sea levels and global warming. Scientists warn that sea level rise in the next century could threaten millions with a similar fate and some communities as far apart as Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji have already been forced to relocate."

"It's something you're going to be seeing more and more," said Albert Binger, the scientific adviser to the 42-member Alliance of Small Island States, referring to potential victims as "climate change refugees."

Climate change refugees pose a significant problem during relocation in regards to what happens to the peoples' autonomy as a community, culture, and even country. It is no small matter to move a country like the Maldives to a whole other area of the world. A recent study by the International Institute of Environment and Development showed that 643 million people are at risk thanks to rising seas.

"One of the countries most vulnerable is China, with 144 million potential climate refugees. India and Bangladesh are next, with 63 and 62 million respectively. Viet Nam has 43 million vulnerable people, and Indonesia, 42 million. Others in the top 10 include Japan with 30 million, Egypt with 26 million, and the United States with 23 million," reports Lester Brown

It would be naive to think that the movement of that many people won't create some rocky interactions among countries and devastating losses for citizens of places that are covered by the sea.

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