Rising sea levels created by the melting of Earth’s polar ice caps and glaciers pose such a threat to the low-lying Pacific island nation of Kiribati that its leader said this week they were in talks to purchase land in neighboring Fiji for a mass relocation of its citizens.
Kiribati President Anote Tong said that they were specifically eyeing land on the neighboring nation’s second largest island, Vanua Levu, according to published reports. Tong added that the mass migration was “our last resort” after a number of its tropical atolls vanished beneath the waves. None of the nation’s islands sit higher than two meters above sea level.
The nation has about 102,000 citizens spanning about 32 atolls across a size of the Pacific roughly equivalent to the continental United States, according to the U.S. State Department. One of the nation’s islands was the key site of a World War II battle that saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.
Many there are currently participating in emergency migrant education programs to make them more attractive to other nearby countries, like Australia and New Zealand, Tong said.
He added that the nation would not send all of its citizens away at once, noting that a small selection of skilled workers will migrate to Fiji first to carve out a niche for their countrymen. That way, once the real migration begins, they will not all be seen as second-class citizens.
“They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens,” he said during a recent state television broadcast. “What we need is the international community to come up with an urgent funding package to deal with that ambition, and the needs of countries like Kiribati.”
The video below is a traveler promo put together by the government of Kiribati, published to YouTube on Jan. 5, 2011.
(H/T: Sydney Morning Herald)