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Louisiana Knows Thousands Should Be Relocated. But No Funds Exist.

Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing faster than almost anywhere else in the world, according to NPR, driven by a decades-long combination of rising sea levels, sinking land, fossil fuel exploration, powerful storms, and mismanagement.

Now, the state is facing widespread displacement, as thousands of homes lie in areas extremely threatened by flooding, NPR reports.

Since the 1930s, the state has lost as much landmass as the entire state of Delaware. Throughout this time, people have been displaced when their homes became destroyed or uninhabitable.

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The most notorious example of this occurred after Hurricane Katrina when hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.

In recent years, the state has tried to address coastal vulnerability.

“The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan” was drafted by the state legislature to address the looming crisis.

Within the plan is a proposal to buy out 2,400 of the most vulnerable homes — a lifeline to people who are unable to sell their homes because of vanishing property values, NPR notes.

The only problem? The proposal has no funding because of steep budget cuts in recent years.  

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It’s a problem mirrored across the US.

Last year, Global Citizen traveled to Kivalina, Alaska, to report on how citizens of the barrier island have been working for decades to get funding for relocation as climate change threatens their homes.

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US States such as New York, Florida, and California have grappled with the consequences of enormous and growing property damage from rising sea levels and escalating storms.

This coastal emergency is more pronounced in other parts of the world.

Jakarta is home to 30 million residents and could become largely uninhabitable within the decade, according to the New York Times. The city of Guangzhou, a multi-trillion dollar powerhouse in China, is being inundated by rising waters and extreme precipitation. The Maldives, a small string of Pacific islands, is building new islands for people to relocate to when existing islands get submerged.  

Jakarta, IndonesiaJakarta, Indonesia
Image: Flickr / World Bank

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In the US, as elsewhere, federal and state policies haven’t been sufficiently updated to reflect the threat of climate change, according to NPR.

Generally, homeowners are incentivized to stay in vulnerable areas through government flood insurance, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency only buys out homes after disasters hit and, to make matters worse, often offers funds to rebuild in the same locations.

That’s partly why many people in Louisiana are stuck in their predicament. Another major reason has to do with demographics — the people most at risk are often unable to move because they’re elderly or poor, NPR reports.  

The Obama administration had begun to explore alternatives to this expensive and short-sighted model.

In 2013, agencies were directed to develop climate change preparation policies. In 2016, this resulted in the Department of Housing and Urban Development giving the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana $48 million to relocate.

Isle de Jean CharlesImage: Flickr: Karen Apricot

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It was the first grant of its kind and it suggested a transition away from the cycle of insure-and-rebuild to a model of “managed retreat” that acknowledges the risks of climate change.

But this agency-wide directive was abandoned by the Trump administration, along with a suite of other climate policies, squashing hopes that the federal government would fund relocation for coastal Louisianans, NPR notes.

If no action is taken by the state, thousands of Louisianans are at risk of becoming climate change refugees, a category of people that could reach 2 billion by the end of the century.