Environmental stories: Drowning Kiribati
This story was an assignment commissioned by Bloomeberg Business week. To view the accompanying video multimedia piece I was commissioed to create please follow this link.
Kiribati, a United Nations member state, is a collection of 33 islands located in the central Pacific. One of the worlds poorest nations, it is also one of the most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate change. Scientific projections suggest that within this century, the ocean will completely submerge Kiribati, making it the first country to lose all its land territory as a result of global climate change. Long before this reality eventuates, Kiribati’s fresh water supplies will be contaminated with salt, and their arable land will be rendered unusable due to increased soil salination.
In June 2008, the Kiribati president Anote Tong noted that the country has already reached "...the point of no return." Kiribati officials asked Australia and New Zealand to accept Kiribati citizens as permanent climate refugees. President Tong summed up his feelings saying, “to plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that.”
Tong has coined the phrase “Migration with dignity” and his government seeks to equip its people with trades and skills that will be useful after migration. He has also raised compulsory school attendance from year 6 to year 9. Despite the push to consider mass migration, many Kiribati don’t want to leave. Their culture in extremely communal, and their connections to land is strongly tied to their culture and identity. Most Kiribati bury their relatives within their homes and claim that the land is where the spirits lives.
The Kiribati have the unenviable position of being at the frontline of the climate change crisis, despite doing little to contribute to the problem. The world should take note of Kiribati’s precarious situation. The U.S. government says that over the past 20 years the oceans have risen at a rate of 3 millimeters annually, faster than at any time in the past several thousand years. While the slow pace of the crisis does not read as newsworthy, it could threaten the livelihoods of sea level communities across the globe within this century.