Shishmaref Votes to Move — Leave to survive. This is the tragic fate of millions of people worldwide, driven from their homes by war, persecution or poverty. It is also the spell now faced by the populations of the areas most threatened by global warming.
In Alaska, a region that recorded a temperature rise of 4 ° C over the last thirty years, the inhabitants of Shishmaref went to the polls Tuesday to decide if they would relocate their village, located on an island that is rapidly under the blows of the sea.
The Arctic is warming in fact twice as fast as the rest of the planet. And some coasts, no longer protected by permafrost soils, are now being swallowed by the waves.
“Over the past thirty-five years, we lost between 2500 and 3000 feet of coastal land,” says Esau Sinnok, a native of the village, on his blog hosted by the website of the US Department of the Interior. “Over the past fifteen years, we had to move thirteen houses, including that of my dear grandmother Edna. But the erosion will completely swallow it over the next twenty years. ”
Rather than moving one by one to different places in the state or the country, many of the 650 inhabitants of Shishmaref therefore would wish to move the village to a safer area – subsequently designated – to continue living together.
However, the operation is extremely expensive: between 180 and 200 million dollars, according to estimates and the selected place. A first vote on the subject had already occurred in 2002. The relocation of the village was then acclaimed by 161 voters, against 20 refusal. But the funds have not been met and no actions were taken.
Meanwhile, global awareness on the consequences of global warming has occurred. And a massive vote could give new impetus to the search for funding.
Other villages in the region are experiencing similar situations. According to an official report in 2009, 31 Alaskan villages, mostly inhabited by Inuit, then were already facing an “immediate threat”. And at least twelve of them had already expressed their wish to relocate. But none for the time have managed to achieve the feat.
This is particularly the case of Newtok, located in the tundra some 600 kilometers south of Shishmaref. The village is sinking into the mud due to the melting of the permafrost. Its inhabitants have already voted to move houses on firmer ground. A location was chosen. But for now, only a half dozen homes were relocated.