Monday, July 27, 2009

Pacific Islanders cry for help

Brendan Nicholson, Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Sydney Morning Herald, July 27, 2009

REGIONAL leaders are preparing to bombard the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, with dire warnings about global warming and pleas for help at next week's summit of the Pacific Island Forum.

They will make clear their concern that they are already feeling the first devastating impact of rising sea levels and increasingly violent storms while Australia and other developed nations remain embroiled in debate about possible solutions.

The leaders say Pacific Islanders are already suffering and they need the help now that the Labor Party promised when in opposition.

In a report to be released today, Oxfam Australia says people are being forced to leave their homes and it is likely that 75 million people in the Asia-Pacific region will have to relocate by 2050.

Oxfam's executive director, Andrew Hewett, said yesterday Fijians were testing salt-resistant varieties of staple foods, planting mangroves and native grasses to halt coastal erosion in order to protect wells from salt water intrusion, and moving homes and community buildings away from vulnerable coastlines.

In the Solomon Islands officials were looking for land to resettle people from low-lying outer atolls, and those living in the outer atolls of the Federated States of Micronesia were facing food and water shortages and moving to higher ground.

"People are facing increasing food and water shortages, losing land and being forced from their homes, dealing with rising cases of malaria and coping with more frequent flooding and storm surges," Mr Hewett said.

He said not all of those living on inundated islands would be able to relocate within their own countries so it was vital that Australia start working with Pacific governments to plan for that now.

"It would be in Australia's interests to act now because, as the situation worsened, it would be called on to respond to more emergencies in the region.

Mr Hewett said that, as the wealthiest country in the region and the highest per capita polluter, Australia must prevent further climate damage to the Pacific by urgently adopting higher targets - reducing emissions by at least 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 - and urging other developed countries to do the same.

The Government's commitment of $150 million to help Pacific Islanders adapt to climate change had to be at least doubled to meet their most urgent needs.

The Australia Institute says in a separate report that Labor made strong commitments while it was in opposition and symbolic steps early in its term in government, but there has been a disappointing lack of meaningful help to the Pacific since then.

The forum's meeting in Cairns would put the spotlight on Australia's failure to deliver, the report's author, Louise Collett, said.

Mr Rudd must fulfil Labor's election promise to establish a "Pacific Climate Change Alliance", allocate money from the carbon emissions scheme to aid for the Pacific, and allow islanders at risk of displacement to come to Australia, Ms Collett said.

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