Kiribati aroused my curiosity after I’d read an interview with Anote Tong, the president of the small island nation, who warned about his country becoming uninhabitable due to the rising sea levels and increasing salination. As Mr. Tong put it: “Kiribati might already have reached the point of no return. To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful, but I think we have to do that.”
I travelled to Kiribati for a month to witness first-hand the problems and challenges of the small island country. I focused on photographing the natives and their everyday lives. The story of Kiribati is a complex one, and the rising sea levels are by no means the only threat the country faces. While the country may go the way of Atlantis, there are even more severe and imminent problems with freshwater supply and with salination killing plant life.
One of the findings in the Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was that by 2050, climate change is expected to reduce water resources in many small islands, e.g. in the Caribbean and Pacific, to the point where they become insufficient to meet demand during lowrainfall periods.
To tell the story more accurately and gain better insight into Kiribati’s agony, I conducted interviews with President Anote Tong, climate change activist Claire Anterea, and a representative of the World Bank. I’d also met with people from the village and paid a visit to the Kiribati community in Auckland. New Zealand seems to be the future for the Kiribati people, who are slowly leaving their islands and resettling in the Kiwi country.
The way home is flooded, and the water rises even further if it rains. Severe weather with strong rains, winds and showers can have an even more damaging effect on the islands.rn
Dead coconut palms that were flooded by seawater. A common sight in Tebunginako, Abaiang.
Portrait of a family in front of their home next to a volleyball court in Tebikenikoora village. Volleyball is one of the most popular sports in Kiribati. High tide floods the court and most of the surrounding area.
Children playing during the high tide that has flooded the road. Children use the high tides to play and swim, not yet worried about the future. rnrn
Building a man-made coral rock sea wall is the best defense man has against erosion and rising sea levels.
College kids watching an Indian romantic movie after a school dance in a Maneaba – a building where people socialize. The girl in the foreground is bathed in the light of a computer monitor. The building was constructed in a traditional manner using coconut and pandanus materials.
As evening comes and people retire from work, the family sits down together in their house. Unlike few other families, they don’t own a TV, so they pass their time playing cards and talking.rnrn
Family values are very important, and families tightly connected. The people of Kiribati consider this a matter of national pride. The birthrate is high, families have many children.rnrn
“Where are you going?” As you walk down the road, everybody says hi and asks where you are going, even though they’re not really interested. “Where are you going” simply means “I’d noticed you walking along the road.”
The coastal landscape of Kiribati. Like many Pacific islands, Kiribati faces serious threats from rising sea. Nearly half of the population is crowded on a single atoll – the main island of South Tarawa.
The once inhabited Aberairang island is gradually disappearing. People used to camp there, but the island is now getting smaller and its fresh water is becoming salty. According to IPPC statistics, the sea level rose by about 3 mm every year since 1993. The situation is exacerbated by a causeway built to link the islands, which is having an effect on natural sea currents, resulting if floods that are destroying vegetation.
Fishermen preparing their equipment and getting ready to take off. In the background, a rusty old ship that got stranded there years ago. “When it ran aground it was simply left there as it would’ve been too costly to try and fix it. Local children play on it and use it as a slide,” said one local.
Nuea Ataata, 14. She went to school in Fiji and Australia. Nuea wants to be a scientist so she could help save Kiribati. Nuea is glad to be back among friends in her home village where she feels she belongs. She wears tibutas, a piece of clothing made by Kiribati women since early European settlement.
Mr. Arikiti believes Kiribati will be flooded and is very concerned about the future. He was happy to hear that the President had started discussion with a number of Fiji land owners, who had agreed that people of Kiribati could move there in the future. In the background, a relic from WW2 – a concrete bunker left over from the Battle of Tarawa – when the islands were under Japanese occupation.
School in Taborio village, North Tarawa. The children had a day off and helped clean the classrooms.
Iebuti Tarataake, 18. He wants to get a job as a sailor. His T-shirt references Nareau, an ancestor who, according to legend, created Kiribati.rnrn