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Kiribati doomed to disappear

The tiny pacific island nation of Kiribati is one of three nations that are expected to disappear within 50 years thanks to rising sea levels, SBS Senior Correspondent Brian Thomson reports.


Kiribati covers a massive 3.5 million square kilometre stretch of the Pacific Ocean but in population terms it is one of the smallest countries in the world, with only 100,000 people.

More than half of them live in the capital Tarawa – a strip of coral which measures just 450 metres at its widest point.

As well as being narrow, Kiribati is extremely low lying, which makes it one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to climate change.

“We are counting the days rather than the decades….We don’t have the time that we thought we had previously,” Kiribati President Anote Tong said.

Pelenise Alofa returned to Kiribati six years ago. The changes she saw led to her becoming one of the islands principal climate change campaigners.

“Things began to change when I came here I realised the king tides were big especially it hit one of the islands and they just got a shock, wow, what’s happening and I told them have you heard of climate change, have you heard of global warming, this is part of it, you’re in it,” Ms Alofa told SBS.

Linda Uan and her New Zealand born husband John have been documenting the changing climate in Kiribati for nearly 20 years.

They didn’t have to travel far to film the effects of a storm surge three years ago when for the first time it washed through their home.

“There’s been a lot of changes,” Linda said. “When we were little there was a definite dry season and a definite wet season, now you can’t feel the difference anymore.”

Kiribati is not just facing one knock out punch but a whole round of killer blows. Because of its susceptibility to the El Nino and La Nina weather patterns, climate scientists say droughts and floods will be more severe than in the past.

Warmer seas could affect the migration patterns of fish depriving Kiribati of the vast revenues it gains from selling fishing licenses to foreign trawlers while increased storm surges are expected to destroy crops and make the limited supply of water in the shallow water lenses undrinkable.

It’s a claim the country will take to Copenhagen as it seeks to get the world’s big emitters to face up to the consequences of their actions.

“It’s a whole world issue,” President Tong said. “It’s a moral issue…it’s almost criminal”.