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[H.Eco Forum] ‘Rising sea levels can bring biggest displacement of mankind’

Renowned photojournalist Kadir van Lohuizen warns of potential dangers of fast-rising sea levels, urges action

Kadir van Lohuizen (On the courtesy of Kadir van Lohuizen)
Kadir van Lohuizen (On the courtesy of Kadir van Lohuizen)

In the past decades, global warming has gained much awareness, prompting the international society to look for solutions, but rising sea levels, one of the consequences, has often been overlooked, renowned photojournalist Kadir van Lohuizen said.

People should understand the seriousness of rising sea levels around the world and act fast, as it could bring “the biggest displacement of mankind in history,” van Lohuizen said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“(Rising sea level) is not a problem of the next generations, but a problem right now in many regions in the world, but often is not seen as such,” van Lohuizen said. “So I hope to raise an awareness and with my photographs, deliver the proof that it is real.”

Having traveled six regions around the world -- Greenland, the United States, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the Pacific -- van Lohuizen has captured scenes of how the rising sea level affects humanity and poses dangers to living quarters in his photographs taken over a span of several years.

While it is difficult to visualize what often is not visible yet, van Lohuizen said he felt the urgency to bring the crises to attention, having seen the consequences with his own eyes.

According to van Lohuizen, the increase in the level of the world’s oceans will “severely” affect future generations, forcing people in some regions to relocate or evacuate in emergencies.

Even the Netherlands, which the photographer calls the world’s “best protected delta,” might have to relocate the western part of the country, if sea levels rise more than 2 meters.

“We have fortified our coastlines and closed off open sea arms after a disastrous flood in 1953,” van Lohuizen said, referring to the estuaries that surround the waterlogged country. “But if we can’t bring temperatures down on the planet, sea levels could rise by 1-3 meters by the end of the century.”

A 1-meter rise is possible to deal with, van Lohuizen said, but any level above that could lead to “catastrophic” consequences that require cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the western part of the country to relocate.

One of the regions that struck van Lohuizen during his travels was Kiribati, an island nation that would soon have to relocate due to rising sea levels.

“(In Kiribati) a family protects their house with wood from palm trees, which function like a barrier to keep the sea out, but is not very successful, and the beach is long gone,” he said.

In Bangladesh, it is estimated that about 50 million people will need to move from the delta region by 2050.

The east coast of the US is experiencing a sea level rise that is three times higher than the global average, and major sites, such as the Miami beach area will need to be evacuated by 2060, according to the photographer.

The problem of the rising sea and climate crisis do not discern between rich and poor, when choosing its victims, and ultimately will affect all countries, the photographer said.

People may think richer nations would be better equipped to protect their coasts, but it is also not always the case, van Lohuizen said, as the rising sea level is often not recognized as a problem in the first place.

South Korea also faces problems from rising tides. In South Korea, beaches on the eastern coastline are suffering from serious coastal erosion with the rising waters, and Jeju Island, a representative tourist attraction is reportedly sinking every year.

On these problems, van Lohuizen urged the government to take actions fast.

“Beaches are beautiful and a nice tourist attraction, but often people tend to forget that they are an essential buffer from the ocean to prevent erosion, when the beaches go the land will erode very fast,” he said.

“This should be taken serious by any government and if it happens it means coastlines need to be protected. The clock is ticking so there is no time to waste.”

Aside from the sea level rise, van Lohuizen has covered various topics, ranging from conflicts in Africa and the diamond industry there to the mismanagement of waste in six mega cities.

The award-winning Dutch photographer also served as a jury member of the World Press Photo contest, and was on the supervisory board of the World Press Photo foundation for eight years.

For his next project, he is investigating the food production chain in the Netherlands and “all that has to do with the environment and the climate crisis” as more droughts and floods endanger food security.

“I will take photographs that can make people think, ‘this could be me’ or ‘this can happen to me,’ regardless of where they are, whether it be the United States, the Netherlands or Korea,” van Lohuizen said.

Participating in this year’s H.eco Forum set to take place on May 26, van Lohuizen will use his photographs to discuss the rising sea levels and its consequences to humanity.

The H.eco Forum is an annual event that invites environment experts in and out of Korea to shed light onto environmental issues.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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