Pacific Poet sounds Climate Alarm

Poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner surveys her island home.

By Joe Lowry

We are shocked to find
the rising waters have displaced
our grave sites
The land crumbles away
beneath rows of skywhite tombstones
The crashing sea swallows up
our ancestors
We watch
as it devours
our histories

The sea is angry with us
an old man

It has begun.

These are the words of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet from the far-flung Marshall Islands, one of the many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) grappling with the consequences of climate change and sea level rise.

It’s something I saw with  my own eyes in a small coastal village in Papua New Guinea earlier this year. Rest In Peace is no longer guaranteed.

Kathy will open the U.N. secretary-general's climate change summit later this month, where she will address 100 heads of state, alongside Ban Ki-Moon, and tell them what it is like to live in a country which may soon become uninhabitable.

The Marshall Islands has already suffered a massive drought, necessitating a national emergency to be called, and for the US government, through IOM, to mount a large-scale relief operation across the islands, separated by hundreds of miles of deserted sea.

Life is harsh in these island paradises, and Jetnil-Kijiner exposes that, using her poetry to raise “awareness surrounding the issues and threats faced by my people". Those include rising sea levels, extreme weather, forced migration, as well as a legacy of nuclear testing on the islands, and racism.

IOM’s Director General, William Lacy Swing is currently in Samoa at the SIDS conference, where he is raising the issue of climate-induced migration. “Threats to small island states should awaken the moral voice of us all”, he tweeted today.

IOM has been active on climate change an migration since 1992, believing the two phenomena are interlinked. The Organization works closely with governments, the UN and civil society to develop more comprehensive strategies to better manage environmental migration and to address potential impacts of migration on the environment.

Standing in solidarity with these remote populations, highlighting their plight, and working with them to find sustainable solutions is of major significance. No less a personage than the UN Secretary General has put it quite starkly:

“Climate change, in some regions, has aggravated conflict over scarce land, and could well trigger large-scale migration in the decades ahead. And rising sea levels put at risk the very survival of all small island states. These and other implications for peace and security have implications for the United Nations itself."


Joe Lowry is a senior media and communications officer for IOM