Concern mounts in Marshall Islands as high tides swamp capital
Majuro counts cost of latest flooding as 30 ‘PacificWarriors’ set off for Australia in canoes to highlightconcerns
By Sophie Yeo
Marshall Islanders have spoken of their growing fears afterhigh tides have swamped some of the country’s majorislands, flooding the airport and damaging homes.
The tiny islands, which sit just two metres above sea level,are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.In March 2013, king tides caused the government to declarea state of emergency, as 940 people were evacuated fromtheir homes.
In an interview with RTCC Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, theMarshallese poet who addressed the United Nationsclimate summit last month, said the level of flooding wasunexpectedly high for this time of year.
“It was just a high tide. It shouldn’t have created that muchflooding. But just a small high tide is enough to createflooding now, because of sea level rise and a number of otherfactors,” she said.
“What’s happening now is we’re lying in wait until the nextdisaster happens. And we know it’s going to be worse.”Jetnil-Kijiner stunned heads of state at the UN when sherecited a poem at the General Assembly, written orginallyfor her seven-month old daughter.
“We deserve to do more than just survive – we deserve tothrive,” she said. “Dear matafele peinam, you are eyes heavywith drowsy weight so just close those eyes, baby and sleepin peace because we won’t let you down you’ll see.” The UN’s science panel recently reported that up to 15%of small islands could be wiped out if sea levels rise by justone metre.
This is not a prospect for some distant future—a report bythe UN Environment Programme released in June said thataround some Pacific islands, the ocean is rising four times faster than the global average. In the western Pacific, theocean is rising by up to 12mm a year, it said.
The flooding is a symptom of these higher waters, as stormsurges and tides encroach further onto the islands. Alsospeaking to RTCC, the country’s education minister HildaHeine said that the constant flooding was having a longterm detrimental effect on children’s education.Schools areshut down due to lack of drinking water as salt permeatesthe supply, while classrooms are used for shelter.