I found this article by Lomi Kriel on Reuters last night and it really got me thinking. We’ve only just passed through Hurricane Sandy and you should know the United States was not the only country to suffer from the effects of its devastation. Many other places also suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy but these nations are Caribbean and Central American nations, much less wealthy than we. No matter how bad it is on the eastern coast of the US right now, the Americans have the wealth to clear up and rebuild. Yes, some lives were tragically lost, homes obliterated, but we will recover. But Hurricane Sandy had devastating effects in other nations as well, including the San Blas Islands. Abnormal weather and global warming is no doubt partly responsible for the storms which create such havoc.
In some of the San Blas Islands during the rainy season, the Kuna people have to evacuate because of rising sea levels caused by climate change. Many Kuna live in poverty. Their lives are a struggle on a day to day basis. The drastic changes in sea levels is causing havoc in their lives. I’ve never posted news on this site before, but this time, I felt obligated.
The next time you hop in your great big car or power up your lawn mower, think about the effect you are having on the environment. Because one day, places as beautiful as the San Blas Islands may no longer be there. And if you do travel to the San Blas Islands, the next time a Kuna person asks you for a dollar to take their photo, give them two. Two dollars means so little to us, but to these people, it can matter so much.
“Every rainy season, the Kuna 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 Kuna 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,” said Francisco Gonzalez, 38, the school principal on Carti Sugdub. “When the water comes in, they can’t do anything but wait.”
It is the largest of the Kuna’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 of mangroves separating residents of La Tirana from the Pacific.
“It’s another example that climate change is here, and it’s here to stay,” said Hector Guzman, a marine biologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
The Kuna have accelerated change by mining surrounding coral reefs to build up the islands. From 1970-2001, nearly 80 percent of the peripheral coral disappeared as the Kuna population more than doubled, Guzman and other Smithsonian researchers found.
They say the dilemma faced by the Kuna is a harbinger of what might happen to other low-lying lands protected by reefs. The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide makes oceans more acidic, killing off coral.
In April, Kuna leaders signed a resolution agreeing to move, saying, “Climate change will sooner or later affect the islands … it’s our responsibility to prevent a catastrophe.”
Some Kuna are resisting. One of Latin America’s most independent and politically active indigenous groups, the Kuna rebelled against Spanish conquistadors and Panamanian rulers, and they have lived on the islands for decades.
In Carti Sugdub, residents say they’re ready to go.
“The children get sick. The trash flows in the street,” said Laura Sanchez, a 53-year-old teacher dressed in the bright colors for which Kuna women are renowned. “We’ve had enough.”
The overpopulated island is also running out of space. Families squeeze up to 15 people into huts measuring barely 5 square meters (54 square feet), sleeping side by side in narrow hammocks.
The Panamanian government has agreed to help fund the relocation. But progress has been slowed by bureaucratic struggles and a lack of resources. The mainland’s thick jungle, home by dengue and malaria, must be cleared.
Leaders are also pressing for better-planned communities for the largely impoverished Kuna, with the running water, electricity and plumbing many currently lack.
“People thought this was going to happen really quickly,” said Blas Lopez, secretary of the Kuna General Congress. “But this is a massive undertaking,” he added, noting it would take about a decade to settle all 65,000 Kuna inland.
Carti Sugdub residents are expecting to leave in late 2014. On the mainland, construction is set to start on a school that would include a gymnasium and two soccer fields – which school principal Gonzalez said could bring other benefits.
“Maybe we could finally win a game if the kids have space to practice,” Gonzalez said.