Rising sea forces Panamanian islanders to move to mainland

November 2, 2012 02:45

CARTI SUGDUB, Panama - Every rainy season, the Guna people living on the Panamanian white sand archipelago of San Blas brace themselves for waves gushing into their tiny mud-floor huts.

Rising ocean levels caused by global warming and decades of coral reef destruction have combined with seasonal rains to submerge the Caribbean islands for days on end.

Once rare, flooding is now so menacing that the Guna have agreed to abandon ancestral lands for an area within their semi-autonomous territory on the east coast of the mainland.

"The people know this isn't normal," said Francisco Gonzalez, 38, the school principal on Carti Sugdub. "When the water comes in, they can't do anything but wait."

It is the largest of the Guna's 45 inhabited islands, and its planned evacuation is among the first blamed largely on climate change. Scientists say worldwide sea levels have risen about 3 millimeters (0.12 inch) a year since 1993. Recent research suggests they could rise as much as 2 meters (6.5 feet) by 2100.

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