US called on to give permanent home to Marshall Islands climate refugees

Fiji’s prime minister has called on the U.S. to allow Marshall Islanders to emigrate freely to America if their islands are swamped by rising seas.

Fiji has offered sanctuary to climate refugees from its neighbors, Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas in case you ever need to say it out loud!) and Tuvalu, but says the U.S. owes the Marshall Islands since it held the islands as a territory for almost four decades after WWII and exploded almost 70 nuclear bombs there while testing the weapons. The people impacted by these nuclear tests were never properly compensated either.

Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama will also be president of the UN climate conference in Bonn later this year – which will give him a big platform to discuss the plight of low-lying Pacific Island nations threatened by climate change.

Climate change is expected to cause at least 3 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century – and the highest elevation in the Marshall Islands is barely a couple meters. Most of it is at sea level – I know, because I went there, to the capital – Majuro, in 2015.

I was there, in the capital – Majuro, in 2015 reporting on how residents were already being impacted by climate change. They faced stronger and more frequent storm surges, rising seas and flooding, drought, and drinking water insecurity as the salt water rises it infiltrates their fresh water supplies.

It was surreal to see how low-lying and vulnerable the narrow atolls were.

Some residents told me about the king tides (the highest tides of the year) that had lately been swamping the capital, in some cases making the water of the lagoon in the center of the atoll rise – sweeping people and property out to sea! Some of the roads were fixed with make-shift bridges because the water has risen so much. They have to put sandbags around the airport landing strip sometimes so the seas don’t intrude.

Another effect of climate change in the Marshall Islands is that the people who the U.S. forcibly moved from Bikini Island before dropping one of the biggest nuclear bombs ever on the atoll are now being evacuated for the second time. They were moved to Kili Island, which was uninhabited for good reason. There wasn’t too much food. They managed to survive the move but now are being flooded by rising seas and have to move again!

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