Rising sea level 2018

(UN Environment, 2018)

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood, Writer, Formative Content

When natural disasters strike, television pictures show us the devastating power of floods, landslides, storms and hurricanes. Smashed homes and businesses, upturned cars and beached boats are the trademarks of severe tropical weather. While damage of this sort is life-changing for the people affected, it is mostly reparable.

But these violent weather events, coupled with the effects of climate change, can leave behind damage that is never likely to be repaired. Entire land masses can shift, or sink beneath the waves, never to be seen again.

World bank data shows 37 countries suffered loss to their land areas between 1961 and 2017.

Some countries experienced dramatic land reductions but overall the changes were of a relatively small scale.

Causes of land loss include rising sea levels and coastal erosion, but natural disasters are frequently the most destructive forces in terms of reducing the land area of countries in the line of fire.

 The world's land shrinkage hotspots

Image: Statista

As the chart shows, the twin-island nation of St Kitts and Nevis lost over 25% of its 1961 land area, the largest proportion of any country. The 90 square kilometer land reduction was largely due to rising sea levels and the Caribbean territory’s exposed position, making it susceptible to the impact of extreme climate events like hurricanes.

Several powerful storms have ravaged the islands, in particular Hurricane Luis (1995), Georges (1998) and Lenny (1999). High winds and waves can erode coastlines, move beaches and absorb wetlands, remoulding the land area.

Ecuador shows the next largest decrease in land mass among countries with a coastline, losing 10.29% of its area over the same time period, a reduction of 28,480 square kilometers.

Vietnam has lost 4.74% of its total land area since 1961, followed by Bulgaria with an overall land reduction of 1.87%.

As well as St Kitts and Nevis, the chart includes other island nations at risk from rising sea levels, such as Seychelles and Cuba.