When the water is unstoppable, just move, right?
Every year the residents of Newtok, Alaska observe the two rivers surrounding their village creep closer together. The rise in water levels is a result of melting permafrost. Road-less and sinking, the villagers have been forced to confront their village’s eminent demise.
In 1996, the residents of Newtok elected to move the community to a stretch of land nine miles away. But displacing a village, even one with a mere 350 inhabitants, proves to be a challenge.
Alana Semuels, a reporter from The Atlantic Magazine, spent time in Newtok and observed the community grappling with idea of relocation.
“It’s really hard to get to it [new location], because there are no roads,” she told the Pulse in an interview. “So they have to take boats there.”
Consequentially, the new location for Newtok is far from complete. Semuels says that it all comes down to funding.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22, where a number of Government agencies say, ‘We’ll come in and build something once there is a community there.’ But no one wants to live there. There’s no school, no post office, so they are just kind of waiting and they’ve been waiting a long time,” said Semuels.
Several other Alaskan villages also face the consequences of climate change and lack of resources to deal with it.
“It’s not really a cash-based society,” she observed. “It’s built on hunting, gathering, and living off of the land. There’s not a lot of ways for people to come up with the money to move from their community to a completely different location.”
And Newtok is running out of time. Considering the rate of water ascension and the increasingly severe storms, the village’s school will most likely be underwater by 2017. And the little village is far from alone in its concerns about rising seas.
“The country’s got to decide what are we going to do about these communities that are really threatened by climate change and how can we help them figure out what’s next,” Semuels concludes.