Residents of small low-lying islands in the Philippines who experience regular flooding prefer to adopt local adaptation strategies rather than permanently relocate, according to research published online this week in Nature Climate Change. The study suggests that human adaptation responses must be considered when simulating potential effects of climate-change-induced sea-level rise, rather than assuming that people will migrate or that communities will become uninhabitable.
Ma. Laurice Jamero and colleagues conducted household surveys, focus group discussions with local leaders, and key informant interviews to learn how residents respond to persistent flooding on four islands that have been completely inundated during high tides since an earthquake in 2013. They find residents have implemented a range of local strategies to cope with tidal flooding, rather than migrating away from the islands. Although some of these strategies, such as building stilted houses, are effective, others, such as using coral stones to raise floors, leave the islands more vulnerable to flooding in the long term.
The authors suggest that most projections of the impact of sea-level rise on coastal areas assume people will migrate in large numbers. However, by studying real adaptation responses to sea-level change similar to that which will be experienced in the future due to climate change, they challenge these assumptions and highlight the importance of identifying environmentally sensitive adaptation strategies for areas likely to experience effects of sea-level rise.
In an accompanying News & Views article, Dominic Kniveton writes “There remains a tangible fear by many in policy circles that the impacts of future climate change will be so severe that mass displacement might still occur, particularly from small island states… By contrast, the paper by Ma. Laurice Jamero and colleagues provides a rare example of migration responses to real sea-level change, and is a cautionary note to governments who feel they need to resettle communities that they perceive as possibly being vulnerable to and trapped by climate change impacts.”