The torrential rains that began in July of this year, during monsoon season, caused massive flooding, submerging one-fifth of the country's land mass and forcing large-scale population movement. According to the United Nations, the flooding caused the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history, affecting more people than the 2004 Asian tsunami and the recent earthquakes in Kashmir and Haiti combined. More than 1,600 people were killed. The UN estimates that more than 21 million people were injured or made homeless by the flooding. "Climate change with all its severity and unpredictability has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the United Nations General Assembly in August. "The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change."
The 600 inhabitants of Shishmaref, a village located on a small island off the northwest coast of Alaska, voted in 2002 to relocate their community because the combination of a rising sea level, disappearing sea ice and increasingly fierce storms has contributed to rapid erosion of the land mass they live on. Temperatures in Alaska have increased by as much as 4.4 degrees Celsius over the past 30 years, causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. The sea ice that protects Shishmaref from storm surges has started to melt and the permafrost under the village has begun to thaw, making the land even more vulnerable to erosion. The shoreline is moving inland at a rate of about three metres a year, and homes have begun falling into the sea. The details of the relocation have yet to be finalized.
In 1995, half of Bhola Island, the largest island in Bangladesh, became permanently flooded because of rising sea levels, leaving 500,000 people homeless. The Bhola Islanders have been described as some of the world's first climate-change refugees. Throughout low-lying Bangladesh, 12 million to 17 million people have fled their homes in recent decades because of environmental disasters. Many of these refugees are moving to the swelling slums of Dhaka. The country's 150 million inhabitants live in the delta of three waterways, and most of the country sits less than seven metres above sea level. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, rising sea levels will wipe out more cultivated land in Bangladesh than anywhere else in the world in the coming years.
Rising sea levels have driven the Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea from their homes, making their community the first in the world to be relocated because of climate change. The 2,500 residents were forced to move to nearby Bougainville as the rising waves threatened to overtake their homes and crops. For more than 20 years, the islanders built sea walls and planted mangroves to fight against the rising sea levels. However, storm surges and high tides began washing away homes, destroying gardens and contaminating drinking water. In 2005, the Papua New Guinean government authorized the evacuation of the islands, which are expected to be completely submerged by 2015. Several other island nations are considering following the lead of the Carteret Islands. "Tuvalu, Maldives, Kiribati, Vanuatu are looking for ways to evacuate their entire population because of saltwater intrusion and rising sea levels," Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said at last week's climate-change meeting in Cancun. "Sooner rather than later, island nations will have to seek refuge in other, higher-lying countries." Tuvalu has already moved 3,000 of its inhabitants to New Zealand.
Sources: The Daily Telegraph, AOL News, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, BBC, Scientific American, The Washington Post
With research from Rick Cash.