How 110,000 Will Flee a Disappearing Island

Purchased eight square miles on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu

The people of Kiribati will be 1,200 miles away from this pristine home is relocation becomes necessary. (KevGuy4101/Flickr)
Photo: KevGuy4101/Flickr

The island nation of Kiribati is sinking. The seawater surrounding the country is rising four times faster than the global average—as much as 1.2 centimeters a year, according to Climate Progress.

But Kiribati, located 1,250 miles south of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, is keeping its head above water. President Anote Tong just finalized the purchase of eight square miles on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu for relocation purposes. Currently, Kiribati's population of about 110,000 people is scattered over 33 islands, which total an inhabitable area of 313 square miles. "We would hope not to put everyone on [this] one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it," Tong told the Associated Press.

The Church of England sold the stretch of land, which consists mainly of dense forest, to Kiribati in May for $8.77 million. Other island nations, such as the Maldives, Tuvalu, and the Seychelles, are also seeking second homes in expectancy of submersion.

"Among the small islands, Kiribati is the country that has done most to anticipate its population's future needs," François Gemenne, a migration expert at Versailles-Saint Quentin University in France, told the Guardian. "The government has launched the 'migration with dignity' policy to allow people to apply for jobs on offer in neighboring countries such as New Zealand. The aim is to avoid one day having to cope with a humanitarian evacuation."

Any relocation would be better than ending up at the snake-infested "world's deadliest island" of Ilha de Queimada Grande, off the coast of Brazil.

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