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Photojournalism Focuses on Climate Change in Pacific Islands

Categories: Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health

Climate change is any significant variation in temperature, precipitation, wind, or other type of weather that lasts for decades or longer.

Pristine waters, lush vegetation, picturesque landscapes, remote location….. This sounds like the stuff of travel guides—words that conjure up images of a vacationer’s paradise. But these alluring descriptors aren’t about “Fantasy Island.” Think Pacific Islands—the focus of a unique NCEH photojournalism project studying the effects of climate change. The project focused on the Republic of Palau and aimed to raise global awareness of the public health effects of climate change on all Pacific Islanders.

A woman and child outside their home threatened by frequent flooding. Photo reprinted with permission from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, photo taken by Genna Ord

A woman and child outside their home threatened by frequent flooding. Photo reprinted with permission from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, photo taken by Genna Ord

An Ideal Location

Palau was ideal for studying the effects of climate change. Why? Partly because the Republic of Palau is particularly at risk of the effects of climate change due to the island’s

  • small physical size
  • remoteness from major bodies of land
  • limited natural resources and
  • vulnerability to natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Impact of Climate Change on the People of Palau

A team of three journalism students, their instructor, and a CDC public health advisor travelled to Palau to work directly with the Ministry of Health. The team interviewed a broad range of residents—including government officials, traditional leaders, fishermen, gardeners, doctors, and scientists—to explore their experiences and perspectives concerning climate change.

A woman adorned for the culturally important  ceremony celebrating a first birth. The loss of specific indigenous plants threatens this custom. Photo reprinted with permission from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, photo taken by Julia Rendelman.

A woman adorned for the culturally important ceremony celebrating a first birth. The loss of specific indigenous plants threatens this custom. Photo reprinted with permission from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, photo taken by Julia Rendelman.

The team took thousands of pictures documenting the locally identified effects of climate change. These effects may have had direct or indirect public health results for the people of Palau. Some of these effects include

  • Potential for more intense cyclones and storms
  • Damage to crops and water sources from salt-water inundation
  • More frequent flooding due to sea level rise
  • Longer periods of higher-than-normal temperatures
  • Unhealthy changes in traditional diet
  • Loss of native medicines and culturally important traditions

The greatest impact to the people of Palau at this time may be the risk of not having enough food and water because of salt-water inundation. Salt-water inundation and flooding damage crops and can disrupt the fresh water aquifer.

Particularly in outer islands in the Pacific where the populations depend on local sources for food and water, the results are severe and relatively long lasting. For example, fields that are damaged by salt water can take several years to become productive again for growing crops.

A meager catch concerns a fisherman, as fish move  elsewhere due to warming waters. Photo reprinted with permission from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, photo taken by Julia Rendelman.

A meager catch concerns a fisherman, as fish move elsewhere due to warming waters. Photo reprinted with permission from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, photo taken by Julia Rendelman.

Book Captures Experiences & Concerns

Using the pictures they took, the team also put together a book entitled, The Public Health Impacts of Climate Change in Palau. In May 2012, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, published 1,000 copies of the book. They distributed the books to the Palau Ministry of Health. The book aims to

  • present the views of the people interviewed
  • document their concerns about their changing environment
  • share the experiences of the people of Palau.

Learn More

The changing climate endangers human health. Learn what CDC is doing to prevent and adapt to the possible health effects of climate change.

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