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Thursday, 28 April 2016 14:02

"We have to move now": Islanders watch as their home disappears in the sea

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pacific climate houses2Communities of four atoll groups in Australia's north have already started moving to neighbouring Bougainville, as their low-lying Pacific homelands disappear under rising seas, reports The Catholic Leader.

Almost 6000 islanders to Australia’s north face forced evacuation as they watch their low-lying Pacific homelands disappear under rising seas.

The communities of four atoll groups – Carteret Islands, Mortlock Islands, Tasman Islands and Fead Islands – have already started moving to neighbouring Bougainville, because storm surges flood their islands, eating away their beaches and coastal lands, and washing away their food gardens.

The closest of the islands are more than 80km from Bougainville, which is an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea.

“I love my islands, we live by the sea and they provide for us every day, but we have to move now,” Ursula Rakova, a Catholic woman who was born in the Carterets, said.

“We are already suffering the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels – this is a matter of life and death.”

Ms Rakova heads the organisation, Tulele Peisa, which means “Sailing in the wind on our own”, and has the task of shifting displaced island families.

Ms Rakova is one of two island leaders visiting Australia on a speaking tour, pleading for government and community aid – in the name of respect and dignity.

She has described the loss of their homelands and their livelihoods, which has reduce them to amongst the world’s poorest people, and forced their displacement.

During her visit to Australia, Ms Rakova is accompanied by Pais Taehu, a traditional chief from the Tasman Islands, the most far-flung of the island groups off Bougainville, and which support a population of 1500 people.

“We are affected the same way as the Carteret Islands. One day, somehow, whether we like it or not, we will have to move,” Chief Pais, who is chairman of the Temarai Association, a voice for the welfare of the outer atolls people, said.

Read the full story by Mark Bowling published in the 24 April 2016 print edition of The Catholic Leader.

Watch "A Pacific Plea" spoken by Ursula Rakova on the YouTube channel of The Catholic Leader.