Tuvalu preserves history online as rising seas threaten existence

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    Two years after submerging knee-deep in seawater to deliver a speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference highlighting the threat to Tuvalu, Minister Simon Coffe says Tuvalu is on its way to becoming a digital nation.

    The Pacific island nation, located halfway between Australia and Hawaii, has completed detailed 3D scans of its 124 islands, which will form the basis for digital cloning of the country, he said in a December message. Ta.

    Authorities are also working to archive Tuvalu's cultural heritage and are considering developing a digital identity system to connect the diaspora and a digital passport that would allow citizens to register births, deaths and marriages, and participate in voting and other events. are doing.

    “We are taking these pragmatic steps because we must ensure the continuity of our sovereignty in the face of the worst-case scenario,” said Minister for Justice, Communications and Foreign Affairs Kofe.

    “We cannot ride out the rising tide, but we will do everything we can to protect our standing, spirit and values ​​as a nation.”

    Around 40% of the main atolls and the capital, Funafuti, are already underwater at high tide, and the tiny country is predicted to be submerged by the end of the century.

    Tuvalu could become the first country in the Metaverse, an online realm that uses augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) to help users interact. But Tuvalu is not alone in seeking digital solutions to operate in emergencies and preserve heritage.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, when physical movement was restricted, the island nation of Barbados announced it would enter the Metaverse to provide consular services, but Metaverse Seoul, which opened last year, allows visitors to pay taxes. Spots where you can pay, play games and visit tourists in the city.

    And the Ukrainian government's digital platforms have evolved since the Russian invasion, allowing them to provide details of air raid shelters, allow citizens to vote on petitions, and list damaged properties. Volunteers uploaded digital copies of art and music to a cloud database.

    From Tuvalu Meteorological Department / Reuters

    But moving an entire nation-state into a virtual world presents significant technical, social and political challenges, as well as heightened concerns about access, security and who controls the data, Queensland says. said Nick Kelly, associate professor at the Institute of Technology.

    “Much of the current investment in building the Metaverse is coming from private companies. If relationships, friendships, shopping, entertainment, learning, and business all take place within the Metaverse, we will have less autonomy. “You're giving up a lot.”

    “Who decides the rules for that space?”

    value and impact

    Advances in technology, from satellite imagery to VR to artificial intelligence, are creating so-called digital twins of cities, virtual three-dimensional replicas that can more accurately track and predict climate impacts and simulate wildfires, pandemics, and terrorist attacks. It has been helpful in creating. Plan your response.

    These technologies are also being used to preserve landscapes, monuments, and traditions lost to war, or to archive those at risk of disappearing due to climate impacts.

    In the Pacific island of Vanuatu, communities are leading a digital initiative to preserve the country's 117 endangered languages ​​and document traditional practices such as taro cultivation. Masu.

    Meanwhile, American artist Amy Balkin is crowdsourcing objects from places facing the threat of climate change, from Nepal to Panama for a collection titled “Archives of People of Sinking and Melting.” We are receiving donations.

    Kasia Paprocki, associate professor of environmental studies at the London School, said local communities are in the best position to decide whether and how their lives and homes should be commemorated. , said there needed to be a process to act on “what is most important and urgent.” Bachelor of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

    After a storm surge occurred in Funafuti in February, the entrance to the house was flooded.

    The entrance to a house flooded after a storm surge in Funafuti in February. | From Tuvalu Meteorological Department / Reuters

    Separately, think tank International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Dhaka-based International Center for Climate Change and Development will collect photos, videos, artifacts and stories of communities facing climate impacts. An online museum has been established. (ICCCAD).

    “What someone in Senegal, Malawi or Botswana loses may not mean much to someone in the UK or Germany,” said Ritu Bharadwaj, lead researcher at IIED.

    “But if they can see photos and videos of what we are losing as world heritage sites, it will help develop a sense of values ​​and respect.”

    Still, Jenny Newell, curator of climate change at the Australian Museum's Center for Climate Change, said while objects can help connect with stories and people, it's important that places remain static.

    “Everything is about a place, and once a place is gone, the depth and richness of the interconnectedness that is inherited and passed on from generation to generation makes it difficult to memorialize the place as a whole,” she says. Told.

    digital arc

    Tuvalu's election results were delayed for several weeks last month after dangerous weather stopped a boat bringing new parliamentarians to the capital to vote for prime minister.

    That makes the questions authorities are asking the roughly 12,000 residents even more pressing. “What would you save if you lost everything?”

    These can be artifacts with sentimental value, children's spoken voices, stories told by grandfathers, or lively dances at festivals.

    These will be digitized and become part of a “digital ark” that will carry “the very soul of Tuvalu” and preserve its essence, Kofe said.

    Aerial view of downtown Funafuti and airport runway in 2019

    Aerial view of downtown Funafuti and airport runway in 2019 | via Getty Images/Bloomberg

    But while a digital nation could preserve elements of Tuvalu's culture and heritage, there is a risk that “the intangible and dynamic aspects of culture rooted in physical space and social interaction will be lost”, said Island Innovation's chief executive. Director James Elsmoore said. consulting.

    Building a digital nation also requires “considerable technical expertise, infrastructure and resources”, which can be difficult for small island states, he added.

    “Ensuring accessibility and inclusivity for all Tuvaluans within the digital space adds an additional layer of complexity.”

    Adding to these issues is the paradox of more people being forced to spend more time in virtual spaces, Kelly said.

    “This would consume huge amounts of resources, especially electricity and rare minerals, and would have significant impacts that would exacerbate climate change,” he said.

    Last year, Australia signed an agreement allowing 280 people to migrate from Tuvalu each year due to climate threats.

    Lin, a Tuvaluan who immigrated to New Zealand with her family when she was eight years old, says as Tuvaluans leave their countries, their ties to land and sea are irrevocably lost.

    “I still remember the sound of waves crashing on the shore and the church bells ringing for evening devotions,” said Lin, who asked to be called by her nickname.

    “You can't digitally replicate the soil that grounds us as a people…You can't replicate the physical connections.”


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