Dec 20, 2017

For remote Vanuatu islanders, fleeing climate disasters is an uphill battle

Lin Taylor

Villagers in South River, a palm-fringed coastal community in the low-lying South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, are used to battling cyclones, floods and tsunamis but are now facing a new threat - rising seas.

Worldwide, seas have risen 26 cm (10 inches) since the late 19th century, driven by melting ice and the expansion of water warmed by climate change, United Nations data shows, and scientists predict a rise of another meter or more by 2100.

With the risk that rising seas could eventually swamp South River on Erromango island, village chief Steve Bob is determined to move his 200 residents to higher ground but getting people to shift an hour’s walk inland is proving to be an uphill battle.

Although the new land on offer is larger and at a site where their ancestors once lived, only one family has relocated since Bob proposed the idea a year ago.

“It’s hard for me to convince everyone to move up. It’s only when we’re facing a flood or natural disaster that people are open to the idea,” Bob said in Bislama through a translator to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.