Saturday, May 30, 2015
That sinking feeling in Kiribati
Michael Field Nikkei Asian Review May 28, 2015
A fisherman wades along the shoreline in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati. © Reuters
No one knows with any scientific certainty whether the central Pacific nation of Kiribati will sink beneath a rising sea, but its leadership is not taking any chances. The talk now is about ‘migration with dignity.’
Kiribati's 102,000 people -- known collectively as i-Kiribati -- are busily arming themselves with skills to help them forge new lives elsewhere. For some, this means learning lucrative ways of catching tuna, for others, it involves being taught how to provide nursing care for elderly Westerners.
The country's president, Anote Tong, a 62-year-old London School of Economics graduate, wants his people to be desirable migrants ‘when our islands can no longer sustain human life.’
Kiribati and its neighbor, Tuvalu -- together once known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, a British protectorate -- are poster nations for countries threatened by rising sea levels as a result of global warming.
In March, their survival came into focus when particularly high tides and a weather system that eventually became Cyclone Pam caused big waves to slam into Kiribati's capital, Tarawa, an atoll that is never more than 5 meters above sea level.
The tempest badly damaged a hospital, drove boats aground, wrecked homes, swamped vegetable gardens and killed breadfruit trees. Roads and causeways, including the 3.4km Japanese-built Dai Nippon causeway, were torn up.
Michael Foon, Kiribati's disaster official, said 3-meter waves, once rare, are now common. ’This is the first time that we've seen this sort of extensive flooding,’ he said. It was the same in Tuvalu, home to 10,500 people.
Cyclone Pam went on to kill 24 people in Vanuatu, an island nation to the south.
Around half of Kiribati's people live in slumlike conditions on South Tarawa, a strip of land about 20km long and never more than a kilometer wide. It is one of the most crowded places in the Pacific. A United Nations Environment Program report says sea levels in the Western Pacific, which includes Tuvalu and Kiribati, rose 12mm a year between 1993 and 2009, four times the global average.
Tong, Kiribati's president, believes parts of his country will be submerged by around 2030. ‘The science is telling us it is already too late for us.’
Kiribati's climate unit, which is affiliated with the president's office, says extensive coastal erosion has forced people to evacuate land that has been inhabited since the early 1900s…………..
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