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Global warming threatens survival of ROC's Pacific allies: envoys

2010/03/22 15:04:28

Tarawa, Kiribati, March 22 (CAN) For Taiwan's South Pacificallies of Kiribati and Tuvalu, global warming is a life-threateningdisaster because it is causing rising sea levels that couldeventually submerge their homelands, according to diplomatic sources.

Despite their low-carbon lifestyle, the people of the twobeautiful low-lying atolls are likely to be among first batch ofrefugees of climate change, diplomats said.

"While these countries produce the least amount of carbondioxide, they have to bear the brunt of the adverse impact of globalwarming, " Benjamin T. H. Ho, ambassador of the Republic of China onTaiwan to Kiribati, said in a recent interview with the Central NewsAgency.

James C.K. Tien, Taiwan's ambassador to Tuvalu, echoed Ho's view,saying older generations of Tuvalu people have complained that thebeaches where they played during their childhood have vanished andthat the areas surrounding their houses now tend to be awash withseawater each February when large currents rise.

"Seawater even oozes from potholes in the road," Tien added.

When a strong earthquake struck Chile Feb. 27, the PacificTsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning. In response to thewarning, many Tuvalu people were evacuated to the country's few"high-altitude points." So far this year, Tien said, tsunami warningsfor Tuvalu have been issued three times.

Meanwhile, in the face of possibly disastrous rise in sea levels,the Kiribati government has not only worked hard to raise itspeople's environmental awareness but has also protested to developedcountries against what it called their excessive greenhouse gasemissions that have cause global warming and other environmentalproblems.

Moreover, Ho said, the Kiribati government has devised a plan for"relocation of the whole country" in the event of disaster and hasalso been lobbying for more international aid for its life-and-deathbattle against global warming.

According to the ambassador, Kiribati was exploring whether anycountry in the world would be willing to provide land space or anisland to accommodate its total population of about 100,000.

At this time, Ho said, the plan does not seem feasible. AlthoughAustralia and New Zealand are willing to accept immigrants fromKiribati, they would not do so without any prerequisites.

For example, while Australia has agreed to help train nurses andskilled workers from Kiribati, it has stipulated that they mustreceive training and work for a specified period of time in Australiabefore they can apply for "employment immigration."

Ho said that in his view, apart from offering vocationaltraining, Taiwan can play a more active role in Kiribati's"relocation" plan by opening its doors to workers from the Pacificisland nation.

The ambassador said he has discussed the proposal with theCouncil of Labor Affairs. The plan is more likely be implemented ifthe Kiribati government would be willing to set up a fund to offerlow-interest loans for prospective Kiribati workers to travel toTaiwan. The travel cost is about US$300 per person, which Ho said canbe repaid through phased deductions from the workers' wages.

While Tuvalu also faces the threat of rising sea levels as aresult of global warming, its government has not been as active asKiribati's in seeking "national relocation."

"The Tuvalu government is reluctant to talk about 'nationalrelocation' because it fears its people will panic, " Ambassador Tiensaid in a recent interview with CNA.

To date, Tien said, Tuvalu has not sought help from Australia orNew Zealand on immigration matters, nor has it signed any accord withany country on related issues.

Still, he noted, many young Tuvalu people have emigrated topursue careers and build new lives abroad in countries such as NewZealand where they seek jobs in its largest city of Auckland.

To help with Tuvalu's efforts to slow coastal erosion resultingfrom rising sea levels, the ROC embassy in collaboration with aJapanese non-profit organization Tuvalu Overview is working on amangrove rehabilitation project along the country's coastlines.

"I'm very moved and gratified to see hundreds of Rhizophorastylosa seedlings and other mangrove plants grow and thrive in thewetlands," Tien said emotionally.

He also expressed the hope that the international community willshow more concern and offer more assistance to help avert thepossibly disastrous impact of climate change on South Pacific islandnations.

(By Garfie Li and Sofia Wu)
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