03-07-2006 10:19

At the end of 2002, the Indian Ocean coastline was struck by a tsunami, the most violent in 700 years. Over 200,000 people were killed. People were shocked to learn that several small islands in Sumatra, the epicenter, were submerged or disappeared. The island country of Maldives was also a target. Because this tiny island country is only one meter above sea level, some of its small islands were swallowed up by the ocean.

To its north, a larger island with 3500 residents was completely submerged. In its capital Male, half of its 1.75 square kilometers of land was covered by water. Waves rushed at the buildings near the streets and slapped at the president's residence. The tsunami incurred a loss of several hundred million US dollars. This country of 280,000 people has a yearly GDP of only 660 million US dollars. A government representative stated that Maldives has already disappeared to some extent. Recovery is relatively easy for countries with more land, such as Thailand or Sri Lanka, but very difficult for the Maldives.

Any abnormal event may bring it disaster. Every centimeter of sea level that rises brings them a step closer to the doomsday. An officer from the UN environmental department once said, "If you want to see Maldives, go as soon as possible. It will disappear from the map in 50 years."

Maldives is not the only country that is predicted to disappear in 50 years. Tuvalu, another island country on the South Pacific Ocean, is facing the same fate. It has an area of 26 square kilometers and a population of only 11,000. The scenery here is picturesque all year round. Among its nine circular coral islands, the highest one has an elevation of only 4.5 meters. Actually, it may be submerged by rising seawater in less than 50 years.

In 2000, 3000 scientists in the world predicted in a collective report that in the year 2010, the sea level will rise 18 to 80 cm above the present level due to global warming.

In the past ten years, the rising sea had already submerged 1percent of Tuvalu's land. If the greenhouse effect is not dealt with effectively, the 9 small islands of Tuvalu will disappear completely. Yet, even before their disappearance, the islands will become uninhabitable.

In its past efforts to combat sea level rising, Tuvalu has failed. The government was forced to tell citizens to give up their homes and leave. Tuvalu will be the first country in the world to migrate due to sea level rising. But where can they go? Who will accept them?

The government of Tuvalu thought of buying land in a neighboring country and establishing a country within another country. But Tuvalu is too poor to do so. The best solution was to have all of its citizens emigrate. They asked their neighbor Australia for permission to immigrate, but Australia faced a difficult choice. The Australian government didn't sign the "Kyoto Protocol", because they didn't want to suffer economic losses. If they took in the Tuvalu people, it means that they would have to bow to international pressure and recognize the threat of global warming. If they didn't , they would be accused of indifference to their plight. They told the Tuvaluan government that they still had time before they needed to emigrate to Australia. Now, the Tuvalu people have to emigrate on an individual basis.

Within the past five years, some went to America and others to Europe, but most of them went to nearby New Zealand. New Zealand's immigration regulations are not very strict and the government is sympathetic toward the Tuvaluan's plight. To date, over 5000 Tuvalu people have settled in New Zealand.

On July 20, 2000, spokesperson for the New Zealand government announced that in view of the Tuvalu people's difficult situation, the government would do their best to help them. Though the living standards of the two countries are quite different and a large number of immigrants may increase the population, New Zealand will accept Tuvaluans as "environmental immigrants".

In the area of the South Pacific, many low elevation island countries like Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Nauru and Western Samoa, facing the same fate as Tuvalu.

In 2001, the island countries in the Pacific Ocean held a "Summit of Small Island Countries". Leaders of six small island countries suggested forming a team to appeal to the United Nations for help.

On Viti Island,Fiji, the seaside is very shallow. The water is still below the waist at several hundred meters from the shore. Actually, the shallow area was land in the past.

In the next 40 years, over 80,000 Kiribati residents will lose their homes. In the Marshall Islands, the soil at the roots of plants at the seaside has already been washed away. The plants will gradually be swallowed up by waves.

In the past century, the average temperature of the Japanese islands has risen by 1 C, while the world average has risen only by 0.7 C. The Heat Island Effect in Japanese cities makes the temperature rise higher than the world average. The signs of global warming and the doomed fate of small island countries worried Japanese environmentalists. Some discoveries in geological changes increased their worries.

The depth of sea water between the Asian Continent and Japanese islands is generally less than 200 m. Remains of ancient forests, river valleys and people's homes were found at the sea bottom, indicating that this area was originally flourishing land. But now they are all under water. Some scholars think it was the result of global warming. When the Earth was in its glacial age, large quantities of water deposited as solid ice at high elevations and the poles. The sea level was much lower than at present. About 18,000 years ago, in the peak period of the Wurm Ice Age, the sea level was about 160 m lower than the present level. The Asian continental shelf was mainly exposed. When the climate became warm, glaciers melted and the sea level rose up. The Asian continental shelf was submerged.

Now greenhouse gases have significantly increased. The sea level is obviously rising. In the past 40 years, the tidemark at Yokosuka has been rising at 2 mm per year on average. If the sea level rise 1 m, the dykes along the sea coast of Japan must be raised 2.8 to 3.5 m. Raising dykes, increasing protection facilities, and closer watch of tidemark are the present measures taken by the Japanese government. But the higher the dykes, the more concern people will have about their reliability. The sea is now a sword of Damocles over the head of the Japanese people.

Britain is an island country with a similar situation as Japan. To its north, there is the famous Greenland Icecap. If it melts too quickly, the sea level will rise rapidly. London will sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean 50 years earlier than other capitals in Europe.

In Italy, Venice is surrounded by water on three sides. This famous cultural city will be the first human cultural heritage to disappear under water. Scientists have predicted that 97 years from now, Venice will not be able to receive tourists. Probably you can only watch the sad tops of ancient buildings protruding above water from a distance on the shore.