I wrote last September after flooding had badly affected us at The Larches that for many round the world it can be far worse, bringing loss of home, possessions, livelihood, even life.
At the time I hadn’t thought that we would be seeing natural disasters so soon – disasters that can be directly linked to climate change and flooding. In October however Hurricane Sandy prevented our return from America for four days and caused millions of dollars of damage on the US eastern seaboard.
Now this last week a report in The Guardian (May 16th) by Suzanne Goldenberg has shown dramatically how small communities in Alaska are being affected by warmer temperatures and the melting of the permafrost, which until now has provided a firm enough base for housing and other facilities.
Goldenberg’s three part report looks at Newtok on the west coast of Alaska and some 400 miles from Anchorage. As Spring approaches, the adjacent River Ninglick carries off huge chunks of land as its melt waters race towards the Bering Sea.
The nearest doctor and hospital is 100 miles away and by 2017 the US Army Corps of Engineers estimate that the highest point of the existing township, now 20 feet above the river, will be underwater.
Destruction of up to 180 indigenous communities in Alaska’s low lying areas, adjoining rivers and coastal areas, is almost certain. Yet US officials indicate that there will be no additional federal monies available to meet the costs of creating new settlements for these displaced people, which could cost in the case of Newtok up to $130 million.
Could the Newtok community become the first of “America’s Climate change refugees”? asks Goldenberg. An initial start in tackling the issues in Newtok has been made by identifying an area nearby where volcanic rock will provide a solid base for construction of housing and facilities.
But if the Newtok community is to survive intact, it will have to raise the money and do much of the building work itself – no mean task for a group of just 350 people.