DEALING WITH SEA LEVEL RISE ON PNG’S MANUS ISLAND

Feature

By Freddy Gigmai

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Nov. 29) - One does not have to be an environmental scientist to understand the adverse affect of global warming on our planet.

As a Highlander, the issue of rising sea levels and its effects did not bother me much. My ignorance and indifference was jolted when I accompanied National Planning & District Development Minister Paul Tiensten to a beautiful coastal village called Lawes in Manus province recently. I saw the shocking reality of the destructive effects of global warming on the local community.

Lawes village is situated in the south-coast of Manus Island. With its scenic vegetation and pristine coastline, the village can be rightfully described as one of the pearls of the Pacific Ocean.

It takes approximately 15 minutes by boat at the Loniu bridge (the bridge that connects Los Negros Island with Manus Provincial capital Lorengau) transit point to reach the village.

The village is regarded by Manus Islanders as the main supplier of seafood; particularly mud crabs and other garden produce such as yam and taro to the main market in Lorengau.

The hospitality and friendliness of the Lawes villagers made the Minister's small delegation feel right at home when we arrived there.

But amid the happiness and friendliness lies the threat that their community is slowly but surely losing its land to rising sea levels caused by global warming. Rising seas have already claimed and destroyed some of their hunting grounds.

During our visit a concerned Lawes village councilor Gideon Timothy said the small coastline village, which has a population of about 700 people, first experienced the threat of rising sea level 20 years ago, in 1987.

Pointing to an area now covered under the sea, Timothy said, "we used to hunt for cuscus and harvest sago around this area when I was a young boy but now it is buried under the sea water."

And Timothy fears that the worst is yet to happen with the whole of Manus Island slowly sinking under the sea. Timothy said most of the villagers in Lawes relocated further inland after first experiencing rising sea levels.

He said over the years the rising seas had destroyed food gardens, coconut trees and even the Lawes Top-Up Primary School grounds.

"We do not know where our children will hunt for protein or harvest sago, plant cocoa or palm oil 10 to 20 years from now because every moment the sea level is rising. It's currently low tide but you can still see the effects. During high tide period, the threat gets even worse for us," Timothy added.

A 10 year-old lad by the name of Pokawas Malakai, 10, took us on a tour of the affected areas in the village. Young Pokawas pointed to one of several houses telling us that this was where he and his siblings were raised.

"My parents are planning to move our house further inland because as you can see water is slowly covering up the land area where our house now stands," he said.

Lawes village is just one of many coastal and island communities throughout PNG who are trying to cope with rising sea levels.

Timothy said global warming must become an important concern for governments, industries, communities and individuals in developing and developed countries.

Fellow Lawes villager Morgan Yowat urged governments at all levels to be proactive in dealing with the issue. Policies must be in place to address the issue and educate people about green house gas emissions.

"It is therefore vital that policymakers and society take into account the wider social and economic implications of climate change and policies," he said.

According to a global energy report released by Exxon Mobil in early 2006, increasing population and prosperity in developing countries will drive up global energy demand.

This will result in substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from developing countries, which will account for about 85 percent of the growth in CO2 emissions from 2000 through 2030.

The Exxon Mobil report says that until recently, the climate policy debate focused primarily on near-term emissions reductions in the framework of targets and timetables set by the Kyoto Protocol.

"The first compliance period under the Protocol will start next year and end in 2012 (2008 to 2012). But, among those nations ratifying the Protocol, only the European Union has been most active in seeking to implement it," the report stated.

The Mobil report further states that most nations who ratified the Protocol are not on track today to meet their 2008 to 2012 Kyoto targets with necessary domestic actions which means that the total shortfall several hundred million metric tons of CO2 per year.

And Australia under the Howard Government is strongly opposed to the Kyoto Protocol saying that a new approach to global climate policies is still necessary, one that includes giant emitters like the United States and China who have not signed onto the Kyoto agreement.

Australia is adamant that both the US and China must be serious participants if there was to be any moves towards agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. But how serious countries like the United States are in addressing the climate change still remains a question.

According to an October 24, 2007 report "the White House significantly edited testimony prepared for a Senate hearing on the impact of climate change on health, deleting key portions citing diseases that could flourish in a warmer climate, documents obtained by The Associated Press showed. The White House on Wednesday denied that it had "watered down" the congressional testimony that Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had given the day before to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

But a draft of the testimony submitted for White House review shows that six pages of details about specific disease and other health problems that might flourish if the Earth warms were not delivered at the hearing.

The report on the White House alteration of CDC testimony further added that in another deleted section of the testimony it said "Climate change-driven ecological changes such as variations in rainfall and temperature could significantly alter the range, seasonality and human incident of many zoonotic and vector-borne diseases."

The international debate on what climate policy actions to take in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now continues, but the outcome is uncertain.

Hence, the future of youngsters like Pokawas Malakai and his beautiful coastline village of Lawes also lay in uncertainty.

Rising sea levels have claimed a large part of his father’s hunting grounds, and now threatens his family home.

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