Nation being devoured by sea

I would like to dedicate this article to Kiribati climate change problem and the indicators that make this republic so vulnerable at climate change problem. We will also look at the adaptation programme, which Kiribati republic phase in, in order to prevent economic refugees flow from Kiribati republic to other neighbor countries.


Kiribati is one of the most isolated countries in the world and one that is most vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels. The Republic of Kiribati consist out of three main islands: The Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands and one isolated raised limestone island, Banaba (Ocean Island). The Kiribati population was in 2010 in total 103,058 and 48.7% of the population lives in the capital of South Tarawa (in the Gilbert Islands), which has a population density of 3,173 people per square kilometer (2012). We can see here, that the population density is very high in the capital city and nearly half of the population live in capitol city, which brings us to first climate change problem in Kiribati – high population concentration.  The World Bank recently predicted the capital island of Tarawa, where nearly half the country’s population resides, will be 25 to 54 percent inundated by water in the south and 55 to 80 percent in the north by 2050 unless significant adaptation is undertaken.

Most of the land in urban Tarawa is less than 3 meters above sea level. The island has an average width of only 450 meters, which makes it impossible for people to retreat as an adaptation option. This situation is typical for most islands in the country. The islands are exposed to periodic storm surges and droughts, particularly during La Niña years, although they lie outside the cyclone path.

Annual and seasonal maximum temperatures have increased in Tarawa since 1950. Maximum temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.18 degrees Celsius per decade.

kiribati el nina

Figure 3: Annual average temperature for Tarawa. Light blue bars indicate El Nino years, dark blue bars indicate La Nina years and the grey bars indicate neutral years

Sea level has risen across Kiribati by 1 – 4mm per year since 1993, compared to the global average of 2.8 – 3.6 mm per year. Sea level rise naturally fluctuates from year to year and decade to decade as a result of phenomena such as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation.

As sea levels have risen, many wells have become contaminated with salt water and can no longer be used. The ground water supply in South Tarawa is dependent on the size of the land area and as long as land area is narrowing as a result of rising sea levels and coastal erosion also reserves of groundwater are narrowing.

Other problem in Kiribati is shoreline erosion. All of Kiribati is coastal and the people of Kiribati are experiencing extensive coastal erosion, not just of the beaches, but also of the land. Over the last several decades, rising sea levels due largely to climate change have slowly eaten away at the country’s 313 square miles. Without action, the country of 103,000 people may disappear altogether over the next few decades. We can already see the impact of shoreline erosion on the village of Tebunginako on the island of Abaiang. The community has had to relocate due to the effects of severe coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.

kiribati 3

With these rising risks of climate change, the Government of Kiribati is undertaking the Kiribati Adaptation Program, supported by the World Bank, the Global Environmental Facility, AusAID and NZAID. The Kiribati Adaptation Program (KAP) aims to reduce Kiribati’s vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise by raising awareness of climate change, assessing and protecting available water resources and managing inundation. KAP is a project of the Office of the President, Government of Kiribati and consists of three phases, running from 2003 to 2016:

Phase I: Preparation (2003-2005)

Phase II: Pilot implementation (2006-2011)

Phase III: Expansion (2012-2016)

Initiatives include improving water supply management; coastal management protection measures such as mangrove re-plantation and protection of public infrastructure; strengthening laws to reduce coastal erosion; and population settlement planning to reduce personal risks.

The last but not least thing that I wanted to mention is economic and political problem of country losing its land territory due to global warming.  The world stands  in front of a big question of how to deal with a problem when one country loses its land due to climate change. We have to realize that we cannot keep our emission within the borders of one country. As a Kiribati president Anote Tong have said  „Climate change is not an issue that really respects any sovereignty.“ All of us, every country in the world participate on climate change and indirectly on Kiribati’s problem. We have to think in future to prevent such an events to happen, that one country will be forced to leave its land and be dependent on help of other countries.

Even if some of the land can be saved in Kiribati, it is not possible to accomodate all of the country’s residents. Last year, Kiribati purchased 5,000 acres of land in nearby Fiji as insurance policy and world leaders have indicated that they would be willing to support Kiribati refugees, if it becomes necessary. Maria Tiimon, a climate activist from Kiribati, rejects a climate refugee ‘solution’ as too  simplistic: „Some of us might think climate change is just about moving people to a safer place. But it’s about equity, identity and human rights.“ I think that sums up perfectly the problem with just relocating population. Every nation has its own tradition, habits, cultural identity that cannot be lost with loss of a land.

Livia Kohaniova




One thought on “Nation being devoured by sea

  1. I really liked your article. I think it is terrible, but at least they are doing something. I wonder whether all the world will finally take common approach or it will be just those nations that are affected should deal with the problem of the rising sea level. Cause as we now is almost impossible to reach agreement and action steps towards some change between large number of states. This is something that should be shown in schools, especially on the elementary schools so the children are prepared to face the reality later.

    Kelnarová Lucia


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