Poverty on Sinking IslandsAs the effects of climate change continue to manifest around the world, island nations bear the brunt of rising sea levels. Located in the Pacific Ocean, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands are just a few of these “sinking islands.” Given their unique circumstances, these islands face distinctive challenges as they fight to fend for themselves. The following is an overview of the issue of poverty on sinking islands.

Tuvalu: Challenges

Tuvalu consists of nine islands, two of which are on the verge of submerging. Scientists predict that Tuvalu could become inhabitable in the next 50 to 100 years. Around three-quarters of the labor force operates in the informal economy, working in subsistence farming or fishing. Even so, Tuvalu’s salty soil renders the ground practically useless for agriculture, and the fish risk being affected by ciguatera poisoning, forcing locals to expend a large sum of money on imports. Furthermore, rising sea levels have contaminated underwater ground supplies, making Tuvalu entirely dependent on rainwater, which, coupled with the alarming frequency of droughts, is unreliable. 

Kiribati: Challenges 

The 33 islands of Kiribati are largely dependent on exports of copra and coconuts. However, a shortage of skilled workers and remoteness from international markets hinder its economic development. In 2019, 21.9% of the population lived below the national poverty line

As one of the most isolated countries in the world, Kiribati is battling several climate-related threats: severe storms cause the sea to invade the land more frequently, destroying crops and inundating homes; malnutrition increases the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis; and the salinization of water makes it hard to grow food and heightens the risk of diarrhea and skin infections. Furthermore, insufficient planning leaves Kiribati especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. 

Marshall Islands: Challenges 

The Marshall Islands is a collection of 29 atolls and five islands. Subsistence agriculture is the country’s primary economic industry, with coconut and breadfruit being the most crucial commercial crops. Commercial fisheries and tourism also generate substantial income. 

In 2018, a third of the nation fled for the United States (U.S.), seeking to escape impending climate hazards, including sea-level rise, droughts and tropical storms. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a one-meter rise in the sea level by 2030, meaning entire islands will disappear, and its capital city Maduro will be irreparably flooded. On average, tropical typhoons occur twice a year, causing major landslides and flooding.

Foreign Aid and Potential Solutions

Most of Tuvalu’s GDP comprises donations from the U.N. and nearby countries. The U.N. has been present in Tuvalu since 2000, with 18 agencies actively implementing programs. Moreover, Australia’s partnership with Tuvalu has provided essential medicine and supplies; maintained access to essential goods and services, including education; contributed to the Tuvalu Trust Fund to allow greater economic development; and ensured infrastructure can withstand stubbornly strong winds, coastal erosion and heat waves. Funded by the U.N. Development Program, the construction of a 170-meter-long concrete sea wall to protect the administrative center of the capital is currently in progress. 

Foreign aid accounts for approximately 43% of Kiribati’s finances. The Revenue Equalization Reserve Fund (RERF) — Kiribati’s sovereign fund — holds investments in more than 20 currencies. In July 2023, a Chinese military-run hospital ship arrived in Kiribati, providing medical assistance to the island. In search of a realistic solution, the Kiribati government has purchased land in Fiji in hopes of growing crops and evacuating the whole island should the worst occur. 

Since achieving independence in 1986, the Marshall Islands has operated under a Compact of Free Association with the U.S. The U.S. gives the Marshall Islands more than $80 million in assistance every year, aiding in sectors like education and infrastructure. The country has additionally received aid from Australia, Japan, Taiwan, the U.A.E., Thailand and the E.U. In 2022, the World Bank approved a $30 million project to improve the climate resilience of urban areas in the Marshall Islands. 

Furthering these actions — strengthening infrastructure, building sea walls and buying foreign land — are all potential ways to combat rising sea levels.  

– Lauren Liu 
Photo: Wikimedia

Poverty in Kiribati
In the central Pacific Ocean there lies several small islands, an independent country, called Kiribati. In all of Oceania, it is the poorest country, however, that does not suggest that it is the weakest one. Poverty in Kiribati is prevalent because copra farmers suffer from low incomes and weak infrastructure due to the country’s remote location away from international waters. As a result, it lacks the necessary resources to thrive. Kiribati’s economy is dependent on the export of phosphate rock as well as seaweed and copra farming, and its location on the Equator makes it the ideal place for spacecraft and satellite facilities. With these intriguing assets, there are possibilities to improve both employment and infrastructure. In spite of creating new infrastructure and more employment, the island nation continues to rely on foreign aid for development funds.

Rising Sea Levels

With much of the population of Kiribati being low-income farmers, and the government providing their travel resources, the nation has been seeking help to fight against sea-level rise. About 28.6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Kiribati is due to agriculture. As a result, aid is necessary to protect its land so that agriculture can thrive.

The islands of the archipelago are only six feet above sea level with a width of only a few hundred meters, making them vulnerable to rising sea levels. Poverty in Kiribati will exponentially increase if the sea drowns out the farmlands, neutralizing the country’s main source of income. Natural disasters will strike and with the destruction of structures, the country may have to use up the little resources it has to rebuild.


Taneti Maamau, the president of Kiribati, intends to raise the islands out of the water to increase the safety of his people. The country will seek foreign aid from China as well as other allies and will elevate the islands through the process of dredging. This is known as cleaning the bed of an area of water by scooping out mud and trash with devices.

Kiribati is developing long-term coastal security with help from New Zealand and is also planning to create elevated bridge roads with funding from China. With these roads, Kiribati will no longer need to use causeways that create beach erosion with the landfill between the islands. This is not universally agreed on because Kiribati has become the center stage for the U.S.’s and China’s competition for control of the Pacific. The U.S. has expressed implications that China will use this opportunity to build military facilities on its large islands. The Kiribati president has assured everyone that there are no plans for this, but Kiribati is vulnerable due to its reliance on foreign aid for 40% of its budget.

Aid from Fiji

The growing sea levels may consume Kiribati, and a neighboring island nation has offered to help. The president of Fiji has stated that the people of Kiribati are welcome to stay in Fiji if their home becomes uninhabitable. There is only so much that people can do in the case of environmental challenges and with Kiribati’s limited resources, seeking aid from a nearby country is a viable option. Kiribati purchased 6,000 acres of land from one of Fiji’s largest islands so that it would be set for food as the ocean covers its cultivable lands. The Kiribati people will not be the only ones seeking asylum as the Banaban people from one of the islands of Kiribati had no other choice but to relocate to Fiji after it was no longer safe to continue phosphate mining.

Foreign aid is partly dealing with poverty in Kiribati. Neither cobra farming nor the mining of phosphate rock provides a high income so Kiribati has received aid from China to help solve its rising sea-level debacle. Meanwhile, Fiji has offered to give the people of Kiribati a new home in the event that their lands become inarable and mining is no longer possible due to flooding. With foreign aid from China to lift Kiribati out of the water and an offer for a new home, Kiribati is in good hands.

– Shalman Ahmed
Photo: Flickr

Environmental Displacement in Bangladesh
The sea is slowly swallowing the coast of Bangladesh. Meanwhile, inland erosion along riverbanks is eating away much of the arable land. With 50% of Bangladeshis living as farmers, their livelihoods are quickly becoming unsustainable, and many are being left with only one option: migration.

Rising Waters

Over thousands of years, the rivers that lace Bangladesh have forged the land. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers deposited sediment that eventually made up the Ganges Delta. Constant flooding has made the soil incredibly fertile, but it also has made environmental displacement in Bangladesh one of the most pressing issues in Asia.

Projections determine that the country will lose 11% of its land by 2050 because of sea-level rise. Most notably, the increased melting of glaciers in the Himalayas is eroding river banks and destroying 10,000 hectares of land a year.  

Consequently, 87% of Bangladeshi people living in disaster-prone areas have been either temporarily or permanently displaced by flooding, riverbank erosion or sea-level rise. Many of these people move to Dhaka, the densely populated capital city, or across the border into India. 

The Environment’s Impact on Migration

“The impacts of environmental degradation are almost always felt among the poorest populations,” said Pablo Bose, an Associate Professor at the University of Vermont. Dr. Bose studies geography and has published comprehensive research on environmental displacement in Bangladesh, as well as across the globe. 

Unfortunately, few places have accepted these environmental migrants with open arms. India has a 2,000-kilometer fence on its border and a shoot-to-kill policy for anyone trying to cross over from Bangladesh, including unarmed villagers. 

Dhaka, on the other hand, is very accepting of its domestic, rural migrants. However, the population increase has exacerbated pollution, congestion and poverty throughout the capital city. With 13 million people in just 125 square miles, much of the city’s infrastructure is struggling to function

Dr. Bose sees Bangladesh as a “hotspot” for learning about environmental displacement. Globally, projections determine that 200 million people will be at risk from sea-level rise by 2100, so the solutions Bangladesh discovers will be relevant to the entire world in the following century. 

Exploring Solutions

But what options are there to reduce environmental displacement in Bangladesh? From the environmental perspective, there are actually quite a few: as Dr. Bose said, “Our vulnerability to environmental disasters has a lot to do with our choices.” 

For Bangladesh, this process may mean creating further conservation protections for the Sundarbans, which is a mangrove forest located on the southern coast of the country. This area provides the country with essential ecosystem services. For instance, the Sundarbans maintain the health of fisheries and protect the land from hurricanes. 

To prevent environmental displacement inland, the government could work towards planting trees beside rivers. Tree roots help keep the soil of river banks compact, reducing the amount of erosion from rainfall and Himalayan glacier melt. 

The question of how to reintegrate environmentally displaced people is somewhat more complex. The case of  Bangladeshi migrants in India demonstrates the deep influence of socio-political and historical factors. “The question of how we welcome people is a question of how we understand these issues,” Dr. Bose said on the subject, adding, “a lot of who we accept is about identity.” Perhaps viewing migrants as people who experienced environmental challenges, rather than as citizens of a foreign, Islamic country, will help better understand environmental displacement in Bangladesh.

Ultimately, every country in the world may experience environmental difficulties. For this reason, the impacts of environmental displacement in Bangladesh are relevant to every person.

Christopher Orion Bresnahan
Photo: Flickr

14 of the 20 most at risk nations of climate change distresses are African countries. These countries are considered as so susceptible due to the vulnerability of the population as well as the continent’s liability to extreme climate events.

Specifically, these African nations tend to experience extreme losses due to droughts, floods, fires, storms and landslides. Additionally, weak economies, governance, education and healthcare systems make it difficult to tackle or adapt to these problems.

Over 200 governments agree that global warming will exceed 2 degrees Celsius, causing much devastation and hardship, especially in Africa.

For instance, sea-level rise along Africa’s coastline is expected to be 10 percent higher than in the rest of the world, and in Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Gambia, up to 10 percent of the population would be at risk of floods each year by 2100.

The cost involved to address this looming danger amounts to billions.

According to the United Nations, adaptation costs faced by Africa range from $7 billion to $15 billion annually by 2020. Moreover, that amount could increase to $350 billion annually by 2070.

Some of the adaptation projects include developing drought-resistant crops, building early warning systems, investing in renewable energy sources, producing better drainage, building sea walls and prioritizing reforestation and desalinization.

According to the World Bank, there is a 40 percent chance of temperatures rising by 3.5 to 4 degrees Celsius if these types of climate change mitigation efforts are not stepped up.

Adaptation measures could, in fact, decrease the impacts of climate change in Africa.

Currently, projections for Africa are grim, even without the 2 degrees Celsius warming. Undernourished Africans are likely to increase by 25 percent to 90 percent, crop production will be reduced as arid areas are expected to increase by four percent, protein needs for over 60 percent of the communities would be jeopardized as fish will decline in African freshwater lakes and the necessary infrastructure for African communities to cope with climate impacts is inadequate. These effects will result in an increase of premature deaths, a rise in healthcare concerns and a decrease in food production.

The adaptation costs required to address the global temperature rise could reach four percent of Africa’s GDP by 2100. Therefore, additional funding is imperative if Africa is to move towards a climate-resilient life saving path. To meet this need, annual funds would need to grow at an average rate of 10 percent to 20 percent per year from 2011 to the 2020’s.

– Caressa Kruth

Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, The World Bank, CNN