Photo Essay

Kiribati is Gone

I travelled to Kiribati for a month to witness firsthand the problems and challenges of everyday living in the small island country. The story of Kiribati, located in the central Pacific Ocean about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, is a complex one and the rising sea levels are by no means the only threat the country faces. Severe and imminent problems include the freshwater supply and soil salination killing plant life.

Kiribati aroused my interest and curiosity after I read an interview with the president of the small island nation, Anote Tong. He warned that his country, just a few feet above sea level, is becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels and increased salination. Tong said, “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.”

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in the Fourth Assessment Report 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 in meeting demand during low rainfall periods. In 2014, climate scientists concluded in the IPCC report that global sea levels could rise more than 3 feet by 2100.

I conducted interviews with President Tong, climate change activist Claire Anterea, and a representative of the World Bank to tell an accurate story and gain insights into Kiribati’s agony. I met people from the village and visited the Kiribati community in Auckland, New Zealand, which seems to be the future for the Kiribati. They are resettling in the Kiwi country, slowly leaving their islands.

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