Monday, February 01, 2010

Monster tides smother Torres Strait islands

Suellen Hinde  from Corriermail

January 31, 2010 12:00am

RISING sea levels drove king tides across vulnerable island communities in the Torres Strait, causing damage to homes and infrastructure.

Monster tides swept through Australia's most northern island of Saibai yesterday, flooding homes, sewage treatment works, water supplies, crops and sacred cultural sites.

"What baffles me is the Federal Government can give $150 million to the Pacific Islands for climate change, but it won't fix up our back yard when we are being inundated right now," Torres Strait Regional Authority chairman Toshie Kris said.

"We have tried many ways to bring this to the attention of the Prime Minister. We have invited him to the islands to see first-hand, but we have had no response."

There are 100 islands between Cape York and Papua New Guinea. Only 14 are inhabited. About 5000 people live on the outer islands.

The land belongs to the islanders, but the State Government owns the houses and there are millions of dollars' worth of government infrastructure in the region.

The six islands most at risk are Poruma, Iama, Masig, Warraber, Saibai and Boigu.

James Cook University Associate Professor Kevin Parnell said scientists agreed sea levels were rising.

"People will be able to live through it with suitable infrastructure, but events like this are going to happen," he said.

The State Government's Climate Smart 2050 strategy last year did not mention the Torres Strait Islands.

A spokeswoman for federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the Government had provided some funding for research and investigation in the past two years, but "there has not been a comprehensive climate change risk assessment in the Torres Strait".

She said Mr Kris was invited to the National Climate Change Forum in Adelaide next month to discuss the challenge of preparing Australia's coastal communities to manage risks from climate change impacts.

The spokeswoman confirmed the Government had given $150 million unconditionally to the Pacific Islands for climate change, with none of that money available to the Torres Strait Islands. But funds had been given to the Torres Strait Islands for sea walls and to secure clean water. A TSRA spokesman denied this.

image WATER SPORTS: Raima Wosomo, 6, paddles, through the streets of Saibai which has been flooded by king tides. Picture: Jamie Hanson.

Video - Cyclone Olga crosses the coast