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Sea-level-rise disaster in Micronesia: sentinel event for climate change?

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  • 1National Center for Environmental Health, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3724, USA.



To describe the impact of an acute-onset sea-level-rise disaster in 2 coral atoll populations and to generate hypotheses for further investigation of the association between climate change and public health.


Households of Lukunoch and Oneop islands, Micronesia, were assessed for demographics, asset damage, food availability, water quantity and quality, hygiene and sanitation, and health status. Every fourth household on Lukunoch was randomly selected (n = 40). All Oneop households were surveyed (n = 72). Heads of each household were interviewed in the local language using a standard survey tool. Prevalence data were analyzed, and 95% confidence intervals were calculated.


A total of 112 total households were respondents representing 974 inhabitants. On Lukunoch, roughly half of all households surveyed reported at least a partial loss of their primary dietary staple and source of calories (taro and breadfruit). Six (15%) of 40 Lukunoch households surveyed (95% CI, 6%-30%) reported a complete loss of taro and four (10%) of the 40 households (95% CI, 3%-24%) reported a complete loss of breadfruit. On Oneop, nearly all households reported at least a partial loss of these same food staples. Twenty four (31%) of all 76 Oneop households reported a complete loss of taro and another 24 (31%) households reported a complete loss of breadfruit. One third of all households surveyed reported a complete loss. On Lukunoch 11 (28%) of 40 households, (95% CI, 15%-43%) reported damage from salination, but none were damaged to the point of a complete loss. Forty-nine (64%) of 76 Oneop households reported salination and five (6%) reported complete loss of their well.


On March 5, 2007, an acute-onset, sea level rise event resulting in coastal erosion, shoreline inundation, and saltwater intrusion occurred in two coral atoll islands of Micronesia. The findings of this study suggest that highly vulnerable populations of both islands experienced disastrous losses involving crop productivity and freshwater sources. These findings reveal the need for effective public health research and sustainable interventions that will monitor and shape the health of small island populations predicted to be at high risk for adverse health effects due to climate change.

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