In 1989, one of my favourite authors, Douglas Adams, set out around the world to find animals most at risk. His book, Last Chance to See, tracked endangered animals and birds like the Aye Aye in Madagascar, China’s Yellow River Dolphin, and the Amazonian Manatee in Brazil. Decades later, climate change and rising sea levels is threatening not only animals (see Elizabeth Kolbert's Pulitzer Prize-winning Sixth Extinction), but also entire nations. These are the ones most at risk:
Since emerging out of isolation in the 1980’s, Vietnam has become one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Unfortunately, according to the World Bank up to 16% of its area, 35% of its people and 35% of its gross domestic product could be wiped out if sea levels rise by just 5 metres. Climate change has been detrimental to this Southeast Asian nation, with an increase in the severity of floods, drought and typhoons. Entire blocks of Ho Chi Minh City were underwater at the end of 2011, with vast portions of the country flooded.
Straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean, the Republic of Kiribati is an island nation of 100,000 people, living on 32 atolls spread out over a staggering 3.5 million square kilometres. Its largest urban centre, Tarawa, sits at less than 3m above sea level, with an average width of just 450 metres. Besides rising sea levels, storm surges, drought, cyclones, and shoreline erosion have made it one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Fortunately, with the aid of the World Bank, the Global Environmental Facility and others, Kiribati’s government has instituted a series of “adaption measures” it hopes will ensure its survival.
Deforestation, pollution, poaching, urban expansion, and now climate change are seriously threatening the future of 200 endangered animal species in Tanzania. These include the black rhino, hammerhead shark, wild dog and bush baby. Meanwhile, Tanzania’s Ministry of Environment reports that up to 80% of the glaciers atop Mount Kilimanjaro have vanished over the last 50 years, largely due to deforestation and warmer temperatures. This could threaten drinking and irrigation water supplies for millions in the surrounding area.
Barbados, a popular winter getaway located in the North Atlantic, is facing more intense hurricanes, coastal erosion, algae blooms, rising sea levels, and damaging coral bleaching. The government has been working for nearly 30 years to protect its threatened coastal zone, which thanks to tourism, also serves as the country’s best economic resource. It has spent millions of dollars helping to stabilize erosion along its 97km stretch of coastline, including building a waterfront promenade that doubles as a tourist attraction and coastal buffer for devastating windstorms.
Floods, cyclones, and tornadoes devastate Bangladesh almost annually, and climate change is only making it worse. Although it’s coastline is relatively small, if sea levels rise just one metre, it will inundate up to 30% of the country, with a devastating impact on an estimated 40 million people. Its monsoon season has been getting increasingly warmer and its winters cooler, causing glacial melt in the Himalayas and increased flooding of inland areas. In 1998, the country saw the worst flooding in modern world history, displacing 30 million people and flooding two-thirds of the country.
Rising temperatures have caused extensive glacier melting, and the result has been a serious increase in floods and landslides for Nepal. Rainfall has become more unpredictable, typically followed by periods of drought, all of which has impacted communities around the country. Some towns have responded by growing a species of flood tolerant rice, or elevating tube wells to prevent water contamination during flood seasons. Nepal is working with various environmental organizations to help the risk of glacier lake outburst floods, but remains constantly at threat. All this beyond the catastrophe of earthquake.
In 2009, the government of the Maldives drew worldwide attention to its environmental risk by holding a cabinet meeting underwater. 80% of the country’s 1200 islands in the Indian Ocean sit just one metre above sea level. Some scientists predict the ocean will literally swallow the Maldives, displacing the country’s 390,000 population. It took 14 years for the government to build a 3 metre high wall around the capital city of Male, protecting the population from tidal surges, but not from rising sea levels. The government has looked at land purchases in Sri Lanka, India and Australia for the relocation of what could be the world’s first environmental refugees.
This landlocked Asian kingdom is located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, making it particularly vulnerable to melting glaciers, and the formation of glacier lake outburst floods (GLOF). Also known as the “silent tsunami”, a GLOF threatens whatever lies downstream – people and agriculture. As temperatures continue to rise, the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers, the “water towers of the world”, spells the loss of fresh water reserves for millions of people.
This poor, landlocked country in southern Africa does not have to worry about rising sea levels, but rather the onset of frequent and intense droughts. The World Bank has identified the country as being most at risk from droughts, with temperatures rising above the global average, impacting crops and agriculture. Disaster Risk Management faces a challenging mix of poor farmers, rapid deforestation and increasing soil erosion.
This Pacific Island nation sits on a string of nine coral atolls with the highest point being just 4.5 metres above sea level. It has already reported losing one metre of land around the circumference of its largest atoll. The country hopes to shift 100% to renewable energy by 2020, hoping to inspire other nations to do the same. Meanwhile, increased salinity in the water has caused problems for what little agriculture the nation has. The population of 12,000, living on just 26 square kilometres of land, has also toyed with the idea of resettlement abroad.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.