Climate change forces Panama islanders to relocate – DW – 06/07/2024 – DW (English)

The time has come for the Guna people to leave the small, densely populated Caribbean island of Carti Sugtupu off the coast of Panama. The Guna are the first Panamanians to be relocated as a result of climate change — their island is in danger of being swallowed by the sea. Their homes are flooded on a regular basis, and experts expect Carti Sugtupu will be completely under water by 2050.
Rising sea levels have caused numerous floods on the densely populated island. In early June, around 1,200 residents left from a jetty with their bags and other belongings and were transported by motorboat to the mainland, 15 minutes away. Their destination:a newly built settlement in Nuevo Carti, in the autonomous region of Guna Yala on Panama’s north coast.
The new settlement was built with the help of state funds, some $12.2 million (€11.2 million). It’s located on land owned by the Indigenous community, and covers 14 hectares, or around 20 football pitches. Each plot is 300 square meters (about 3,200 square feet), and the houses themselves each offer around 41 square meters of living space.
At the end of May, Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo (second from left) opened the new village, while decrying the reason for its construction. He blamed the world’s rich industrialized countries and their increasing greenhouse gas emissions for the evacuation. Poorer island states have been the first communities to be affected by the consequences of global warming.
Members of Panama’s border police agency, Senafront, helped with the resettlement to the new homes. Each house consists of two bedrooms, a living and dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a laundry room.
A few islanders, however, have resisted the relocation — elderly residents, in particular, have found it difficult to accept the consequences of climate change. The Guna have lived on the small island for almost 200 years. But nobody is being forced to move just yet.
The new homes are spacious and comfortable, at least when compared with the old community. Homes on the small island mostly consist of one-room huts, and every last bit of available space is built up — there’s nothing left of the beach and palm trees. The Guna themselves also contributed to the destruction of the island’s protective barrier by cutting down the coral in the sea.
"I like the house," 26-year-old Marialis Lopez told news agency AFP. "I can change my life here, it’s better than being there" on the overcrowded island, she added. But for others, it wasn’t easy to say goodbye. "We are sad because if this island disappears, a part of our heart, of our culture, disappears with it," said Alberto Lopez, who was born on Carti Sugtupu 72 years ago.