Sea levels are rising, and the people of Gardi Sugdub know disaster looms.
The tiny, low-lying island off the north coast of Panama doesn’t stand a chance against the steamroller of climate change. The nearly 1,300 people crowded onto to it will have to move.
And the community wants to move. In fact, they began planning to relocate to the mainland in 2010. But no one has yet been able to leave the sinking island, because government pledges of support for the move keep falling through. The relocation date gets pushed forward, over and over.
The government’s unfulfilled promises for the new location include a partly constructed hospital – a project now abandoned – and a new school building that’s taking forever to complete. People from the community ask about the delays, but authorities fail to provide full explanations.
Of course, climate change doesn’t wait for governments, and people cannot live on promises. With the relocation from Gardi Sugdub stalled, the community is in limbo, with the sea rising relentlessly around them. Floods are already making life harder for the island’s residents, impacting health, education, and culture.
And Gardi Sugdub, home to Guna Indigenous people for over a century, is not alone. In Panama, 38 communities may need to be relocated because of overcrowding and the rising sea level. Hundreds of communities around the world find themselves in a similar position – or soon will.
It’s difficult not to see Gardi Sugdub as a metaphor for humanity’s failure in the face of climate change. People look around and see the impacts: more frequent higher temperatures and other extreme events, floods, droughts, forest fires, and more. They ask governments to do something and governments reply with delays and broken promises rather than action.
But being a metaphor or a warning for the rest of the world doesn’t help the people on Gardi Sugdub. They need authorities in Panama to follow through, so they can get off the island with dignity and rebuild their lives on safer ground.