The predicted rise in sea level would mean that 40% of buildings in the Marshall Islands’ capital, Majuro, would be permanently inundated and entire islands would disappear, potentially costing the Pacific nation its nationhood, according to one. devastating new report from the World Bank. .
The report, Mapping the Marshall Islands, containing grim visualizations of the impact of sea level rise on the Marshall Islands, has been in the works for two years and was shared exclusively with the Guardian ahead of its publication in weeks. future.
The Marshall Islands is a country in the North Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. It has a population of 59,000 and a land mass of only 180 km², made up of 1,156 individual islands. It is one of the countries considered to be the most threatened with extinction due to the rise in sea level.
Artessa Saldivar-Sali, the World Bank disaster risk management specialist who led work on the report, said modeling shows that the Marshall Islands could lose important and crucial parts of their land and land. infrastructure.
“With a sea level rise of one meter, we predict that around 40% of the buildings in the capital, Majuro, would be permanently flooded, permanently flooded. So that’s a pretty big impact, ”she said.
In addition to the two out of five buildings 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 getting brighter,” said Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, poet and climate envoy for the Marshall Islands.
“I remember reading the report for the first time and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s going to look like this, that’s what it’s going to cause,’ and none of that makes me feel good. I can say with certainty that this is a really difficult report to get across.
Jetñil-Kijiner said she was shocked to learn that her island would be so badly affected.
“One of the islands listed as 100% underwater, fully covered, is Jaluit, which is actually the island my family came from,” she said. “This is the land my daughter is named after. So when I saw that, I had to tell my family that this was going to happen, they had to be aware of it. It really hit hard. “
The modeling done for the report is unique in that it combines sea level rise and flood scenarios with the exposure geography of people, assets, buildings and others. infrastructure in order to better determine the real impacts. His 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 precise with the modeling, they can better assess the broader impacts.
“This equates to coastal erosion, more houses falling into the sea, significant land loss and saltwater intrusion into freshwater sources, which obviously has a very big impact on the agriculture and the availability of water supply, ”she said.
“With this level of flooding, in order for daily life to continue, serious adaptation measures would be needed, such as raising floor levels, raising land levels or moving buildings to land. inland. All of these options come at a cost, however. With the details provided in the study, schools, businesses, and real estate developers could see where low-cost options (like moving a yard a few feet) will have long-term benefits in adapting and coping with the looming impact. rise in sea level.
In addition to the effects on individual livelihoods and the environment, land loss also presents a legal problem for the Marshall Islands.
“A key question is how international law makes the difference between an island and just a rock, is whether this piece of land is capable of supporting its own human and economic life, ”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 on the presumption that they will continue to be a state, with defined stability, territory and population. Thus, the question remains whether the territorial elements of the Marshall Islands put to the test by the rise in sea level would result in any alteration of statehood, ”she said.
Another legal concern for the Marshall Islands brought about by sea level rise is that of losing its vast exclusive maritime area and therefore access to crucial fisheries which provide much of the country’s food and contribute significantly. significant to its GDP.
This is something that Pacific island nations, including the Marshall Islands, are well aware of and have started to take action.
In a statement released by the Pacific Islands Forum in August, Pacific leaders pledged to set the baselines of sea areas, so that in the event of islands shrinking or disappearing, nations will retain the same oceanic territory.
Saldivar-Sali said the new report, while highlighting a bleak future, should empower policymakers and communities to understand their options.
“It could include things like increasing land, reclaiming land, or even consolidating the population on an island. For the people of the Marshall Islands, international migration is the option of last resort, ”she said.