The (Soon To Be) Lost Country of Kiribati

The climate change battle is just getting started. Will an innocent island become the first casualty?

By: Maureen Lu, Staff Writer

They were the first people to see the new millennium. Now the republic of Kiribati, an island nation in the central tropical Pacific Ocean with a population just over 100,000, may also be the first to hit a game over situation when it comes to climate change.

The International Institute for Environment and Development identified Kiribati as one of the top 10 most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. It consists of one main island called South Tarawa and 32 low-lying atolls. Most of these islands are less than 3 metres above sea level.

“You probably couldn’t find it on most of the world maps,” says Ms. Takotaake (referred to as Tako below), a 27-year-old local council clerk from Kiribati. I first meet her at the Women in Local Government Networking Drink in Hobart, Australia.

“Hobart is very cold for me,” she explains. “In my country, the summer never ends.” It’s May and she’s wearing a simple black jumper, a coat and a pair of feather earrings.

[pullquote]“People who still don’t believe in climate change should come to my country to see how [it has] damaged [us].”[/pullquote]

After a 22 hour flight from Kiribati and a one day study tour, she looks tired but satisfied.

“Our government and our president are trying very hard to let the world know what is happening in Kiribati,” she says, already concerned about the future of her home country. “People who still don’t believe in climate change should come to my country to see how [it has] damaged [us].”

Tako graduated from finance management at the University of the South Pacific, which is based in Suva, Fiji’s capital, and jointly owned by 12 Pacific island countries. “There are no universities at all in Kiribati and only young people from urban area have a chance for higher education abroad,” she says.

Tako’s older sister is studying management as well, but in Taiwan. “She loves life in Taiwan, but she will come back home after [her] two-year master’s program,” she explains, adding that the country and people need their help.

While others her age are focused on starting their adult lives, Tako just wants to save her childhood home. It is no longer just about abstract figures, boring reports or complicated political debates. Real people are losing their farms, houses, childhood playgrounds and chances to have a future.

The memories of an entire a nation are at risk. Elders will no longer be able to see the houses they spend their lifetime building. Young children won’t see the sun rising up from the horizon at the same spots their ancestors did years before them.

Image courtesy of KevGuy4101 via Flickr

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