'Climate change' forces Eskimos to abandon village
April 24, 2009|By Azadeh Ansari CNN
Newtok's limited supply of fuel is in jeopardy due to flooding waters.
The indigenous people of Alaska have stood firm against some of the most extreme weather conditions on Earth for thousands of years. But now, flooding blamed on climate change is forcing at least one Eskimo village to move to safer ground.
The community of the tiny coastal village of Newtok voted to relocate its 340 residents to new homes 9 miles away, up the Ninglick River. The village, home to indigenous Yup'ik Eskimos, is the first of possibly scores of threatened Alaskan communities that could be abandoned.
Warming temperatures are melting coastal ice shelves and frozen sub-soils, which act as natural barriers to protect the village against summer deluges from ocean storm surges.
"We are seeing the erosion, flooding and sinking of our village right now," said Stanley Tom, a Yup'ik Eskimo and tribal administrator for the Newtok Traditional Council.
The crisis is unique because its devastating effects creep up on communities, eating away at their infrastructure, unlike with sudden natural disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes or hurricanes.
Newtok is just one example of what the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns is part of a growing climate change crisis that will displace 150 million people by 2050.
The group says indigenous peoples in Asia, Central America and Africa are threatened by shifting environmental conditions blamed on climate change.
"We will not be able to survive"
Tom's ancestors have been living in the region for centuries, he said.
"Our land is our resource, our source of food; it's our country. We live off of it. If we go to another village or city, we will not be able to survive," Tom said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that moving Newtok could cost $130 million. Twenty-six other...