where will we go? – rising sea levels

Kadir van Lohuizen

For the past year and a half, I have been looking at the global consequences of rising sea levels caused by climate change. Today, no one any longer doubts that glaciers the world over are retreating, and even more worryingly that Greenland and Antartica are melting at an increasing pace. The question: how fast is it going? It is alarming that past figures appear to have been too conservative and humanity should start preparing for the biggest displacement of mankind in known history. As people in all of the world’s regions become displaced at ever growing scales, the biggest question is: where will they go?

In my reportage I have tried to provide globally balanced coverage of how climate change is already affecting places where people live. I have traveled to Kiribati, Fiji, the Carteret Atoll in Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, the Guna Yala coastline in Panama, the United Kingdom and the United States. In these different regions I not only looked at the areas that are affected or will be affected, but also where people will likely have to relocate to. I photographed and interviewed families who still partly live in affected areas and other family members who have already moved to safer ground. What is often forgotten is that before seas flood land permanently, the sea water intrudes much earlier at high tides, thus making once-fertile land no longer viable for crops and drinking water brackish and undrinkable.

Coastal erosion, inundation, worse and more frequent coastal surges and contamination of drinking water mean increasingly that people have to flee their homes and lands in a growing number of locales across the world. Almost no one with whom I have spoken wants to move; they simply have no other choice as conditions worsen.

The human costs of these movements are dramatic in the extreme. Kiribati may be forced to relocate its entire poplution if things get much worse. In Bangladesh it is likely that up to 50 million people will have to move from the delta region by 2050 and nobody knows at this stage where they will go. Although often ignored by climate change campaigners, the US East Coast is experiencing three times faster  rising sea levels than the global average because Western Greenland’s glaciers and ice are melting so quickly. Protecting cities on the eastern seaboard will require enormous financial resources. Miami is likely to be lost. The now propserous city is built on limestone, so seawalls will not protect the city, since the water will enter under the built seawall. Therefore, its expected that the Miami Beach and bay area need to be evacuated by 2060.

The Rising Sea Levels project is designed to highlight both the immense complexities associated with in-island and inter-island/country movement, as well as the specific human rights implications involved with such involuntary movements.


Photos of the project are also part of Kadir Van Lohuizen’s last publication, ‘Where will we go‘, available here

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