Panama’s indigenous develop relocation plan as a response to rising sea levels

People from the indigenous community of Guna Yala are preparing to relocate to the mainland.

1,200 inhabitants of the island of Gardi Sugdub will relocate to mainland Panama in 2023 as their land is being overtaken by the rising Caribbean Sea. According to an article published by BBC scientific data shows that the sea level has been creeping up at a rate of between 2.3mm and 2.5mm per year. This is roughly an inch every 10 years. Today, we are seeing inhabitants in the most vulnerable places suffering from the effects of climate change, so much so, that they are willing to leave their homes behind. 

The people of Gardi Sugdub or Crab Island will be the first to embark on the process of relocating from their island home to La Barriada a 17 hectares (42 acres) plot of land near the port town of Carti.  

In 2010, with finance from the Inter-American Development Bank, Panama’s national government began work on infrastructure in La Barriada. Construction began with the school and health center. And in 2015 the construction of 300 houses was to begin.

BBC spoke with Victoria Navarro of Gardi Sugdub who explained that during that time people from her island participated in planting crops and clearing the land of La Barriada. And that for her it was a hopeful time, as she saw the spaciousness of the area, which would allow her grandchildren a space to play soccer and volleyball, bigger than they could find on the island. 

"Here they can be free like the birds," she said.