Working on nuts and bolts stuff today (well, jabs and visa applications), which does mean that this journey is becoming a reality. It also means that pretty soon I’m going to need to stop talking the talk and start walking. And nothing brings this home like buying insurance. On paper it all looks fine; this company offers £10 million to cover medical emergencies abroad, that company offers £5 million – I’m not going to get into more than £5 million worth of trouble am I?
Well, possibly, yes. Just to be sure, I make a few calls, asking what systems each company has in place to handle medical evacuation, and whether these cover Papua New Guinea.
“Having insurance doesn’t mean there’s going to be a helicopter come and pick you up,” says the gruff, northern voice on the end of the line. “If you’re in a very remote area, they’re not going to be able to get through. And if you are in Papua New Guinea, I’m not aware there is a rescue agency at all.” I think he is enjoying this.
“But, in theory, yes, we will be able to pay the bill if you get out.”
Which, it strikes me, means that if I get sick – particularly if I get badly sick – I will be in a pretty similar situation to the people I am traveling to meet. The Carteret Islands don’t have electricity, nor do they have telephones. There are no flights, nor regular boats to the next biggest island (Buka), let alone to the mainland itself. If an islander needs hospital attention, she is forced to rely on the charity of others to see that she gets there. If I do make it to the Carterets, I may be in the same position myself. I am used to not having to deal with such fundamental worries – that is why I have insurance – but this, I realise, is a freedom not everyone can afford.
Of course, on one level I already knew this, but I don’t think I actually really thought about what it meant before now.
I also have the luxury of being able to stop worrying and, say, go off to read the paper. Not that it offers much relief today. Scientists in Copenhagen are warning that sea-levels around the world could rise much higher than previously feared – precisely the problem that is forcing the people of the Carteret Islands to leave their homes. I’ve found this interactive map, which shows how much of the shore we can expect to be eaten up for each metre the waves rise. The author admits there are some inaccuracies, but it is well worth a look. According to the news from Copenhagen, we should expect the seas to rise one metre by 2100. Could I suggest anyone living on the east coast thinks about buying some Wellington boots?
As their island homes are swallowed by rising sea levels, the people of the Carteret Islands are being forced to leave in what will become the world’s first official climate change evacuation. Dan Box will traveling to the islands in April and will be blogging live on his journey at www.journeytothesinkinglands.wordpress.com
The trip is made possible thanks to the Royal Geographical Society (With IBG) Journey of a Lifetime Award