Panama islanders move inland from rising seas

• November 12, 2012
Rainstorm in Panama

Creative Commons: Richard Barrow, 2008

Every rainy season, the Guna people living on the Panamanian white sand archipelago of San Blas brace themselves for waves gushing into their tiny mud-floor huts. Rising ocean levels caused by global warming and decades of coral reef destruction have combined with seasonal rains to submerge the Caribbean islands for days on end. Once rare, flooding is now so menacing that the Guna have agreed to abandon ancestral lands for an area within their semi-autonomous territory on the east coast of the mainland.

“The people know this isn’t normal. When the water comes in, they can’t do anything but wait.” – Francisco Gonzalez, Carti Sugdub

It is the largest of the Guna’s 45 inhabited islands, and its planned evacuation is among the first blamed largely on climate change. Scientists say worldwide sea levels have risen about 3 millimeters (0.12 inch) a year since 1993. Recent research suggests they could rise as much as 2 meters (6.5 feet) by 2100.

The phenomenon threatens low-lying communities around the world. Central America, a strip of land between two oceans, is particularly vulnerable. In western El Salvador, rising tide has swallowed up at least 1,000 feet (300 metres) of mangroves separating residents of La Tirana from the Pacific.

Read more: Sydney Morning Herald >>


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