Friday, April 06, 2007
Seeking global warming's 'first refugees'
How are some of the world’s poorest people dealing with the effects of global climate change? That was the question posed to us a few days ago.
In India there are a number of ways of looking at this story, but we decided to head out to meet the people living on a group of islands in the Ganges delta area known as the Sundarbans.
I’d read a lot about the Sundarbans - and knew it was home to the Bengal Tiger and a host to a diverse ecosystem. But some scientists and researchers are calling now the residents of the Sundarbans among the first "global climate change refugees."
This morning we woke up before dawn to take a several hour ride by car from our hotel in Kolkata to meet a small boat we had hired for the day to take us to Ghoramara Island. The boat that took us seemed to be barely rigged together. The "captain" leaned on a rusty old rudder and held onto a frayed piece of string in his other hand to regulate the speed of the boat.
Ghoramara Island was beautiful, though villagers told us (and satellite photos show) that the size of the island is shrinking. Local officials on the island estimate that more than half of the population of the island have left after losing their farmland to the surging water.
An environmentalist with the Wildlife Protection Society of India, traveling with us, says two (once inhabited) islands have already disappeared under water and there are about a dozen more threatened. The environmentalist also pointed to figures showing the sea level rising at higher-than normal rates in this region and suggested that global warming may be partly to blame.
For the villagers left on the island (just over 5,000 according to local official numbers) worrying about rising water is constant. We met families who told us they lost all of their land and were searching for other ways to make ends meet. We met former farmers –- turned fishermen ... who were trying to eek out a living catching tiny fish.
Even though these villagers were struggling to make it by (often on about $1 or $2 per day) everyone we spoke with said they felt lucky to just be able to stay on their island.
We put together the piece overnight, and now I’m heading to bed. You can watch my report in full.
-- From Seth Doane, CNN International Correspondent
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