Warm Waters is a long-term project by documentary photographer Vlad Sokhin investigating and documenting the effects of climate change on countries and communities of the Pacific region. The photography in poignant, stunning and predictably alarming.
In his project description, Sokhin writes:
From rising sea levels and the effects of increasingly extreme weather effects, such as El Niño and super typhoons, to floods and droughts, the destruction of coast, and the first climate refugees — I am collecting visual evidence of what is happening on the front lines of man-made global warming today, and how these phenomena are being dealt with.
Since kicking off the project in 2013, Sokhin has travelled to most countries in Oceania –Tuvalu, Kiribat, Tokelau, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji– covering climate change-related events, documenting the catastrophic challenges being created and how they’re being addressed.
“My aim is to show how climate change is already affecting our planet,” Sokhin said during a segment on CNN’s Parting Shot. “I want to share what is happening in the most vulnerable communities of our planet and how this may soon become everyone’s reality.”
According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, 21.5 million people have been displaced annually since 2008 due to weather-related events linked directly to climate change. Thousand of others, they point out:
..flee their homes in the context of slow-onset hazards, such as droughts or coastal erosion linked to sea level rise. There is high agreement among scientists that climate change, in combination with other drivers, is projected to increase displacement of people in the future.
And, critically as well:
Climate change is also a “threat multiplier” in many of today’s conflicts, from Darfur to Somalia to Iraq and Syria. The Arab Spring is commonly seen as leading to Syria’s conflict, but people tend to forget the five-year drought in Syria’s northeast that preceded the war and the displacement of some 1.5 million people.
“I’ve seen villages completely destroyed by strong winds and huge storm surges,” Sokhin said in one of his short videos, embedded below. “People have lost their lives and communities have been displaced from places where their families have lived for generations.”
Relocation is far more widespread than many realize.
“From the Pacific all the way to northern Alaska,” Sokhin said, “many communities have already moved to new locations and others are preparing to relocate.”
Three short pieces are below:
The first a two-and-a-half-minute self-titled trailer for the project;
Next, the CNN Parting Shots segment:
And more background from this four-minute piece, “The World’s First Climate Refugees”.
I’ve never visited this area but I write briefly about the growing phenomenon of climate refugees after a visit to Panama’s Caribbean San Blas Islands, some of which will be gone in a little as three decades.
And related: if you’re wondering why UNHCR is shying away from using the term ‘climate refugees’ in favor of the more awkward “persons displaced in the context of climate change”, it’s not because of denialism. From a November 2016 FAQ which asks and answers, What is a “climate change refugee”?
The term “climate refugee” is misleading because in international law the word “refugee” describes people fleeing war or persecution and who have crossed an international border. Climate change affects people inside their own countries, and typically creates internal displacement before it reaches a level where it pushes people across borders. It is therefore preferable to refer to “persons displaced in the context of climate change”.