living on the tiny Pacific islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu are
fighting against rising seas for their very existence. How should the
region prepare for its uncertain future, and what can be done to
man in Eita Village carries freshwater to his home, protected from
the sea by tyre walls. Photo: RNZ /
tiny village of Eita sits on the coast of the main island of
by mangroves and depressions in the land, the villagers eke out their
existence by constantly lifting the level of their floors above the
ever-encroaching king tides.
church pastor Eria Maerere says he used to think rising seas were
just a story. Photo: RNZ / Chris
senior pastor of the village church, Eria Maerere, says when the
community first arrived there in 1980, the king tides were never a
problem, but now they regularly inundate their homes.
we first heard about the rise of the sea-level, we thought that
somebody made up a story, but at the beginning of the year 2000,
that's when we begin to realise that it is not a fiction, it is a
around the year 2000 we had the first big king tide, where the water
swept in and all the floors of the houses were breached with the
the families had to get up early in the morning because all the water
had washed their mats, their pillows and all that."
United Nations warns that if sea-level rise continues at the current
rate, the Pacific atolls of Kiribati and Tuvalu could be completely
submerged within decades.
child walks along the main road into Eita Village. Photo: RNZ
/ Chris Bramwell
James Renwick from Victoria University of Wellington says sea levels
in the Western tropical Pacific have risen faster than just about
anywhere on Earth.
the sea-level rises even by a few centimetres, a king tide or a storm
surge can come much further inland."
is very hard to predict at what point the low-lying atolls will
become uninhabitable, Prof Renwick says.
of the things about the way some of these physical systems work in
the tropics, the strengthening of trade winds and so on, can actually
lead to the accretion of sand on some of the atolls, and some of the
islands in the Pacific have actually been observed to be getting
it's a complicated story, but as the sea-level continues to rise and
if we don't limit greenhouse gas emissions soon and the rising
sea-level accelerates ... then the low-lying atolls could become
uninhabitable by the end of the century at the very latest."
the local hospital has been inundated by big tides. Photo: RNZ
/ Chris Bramwell
Hospital on Kiribati's main island of Tarawa provides emergency and
general medical care, as well as maternity, pharmacy and dental
tiny hospital has suffered flooding from king tides more frequently
in the past 10 years, but last February a particularly high tide
destroyed its maternity ward, toilet block and part of the sea-wall
built to protect it.
Hospital nurse Teri Eromanga says she's worried for her
patients. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell
nurse at the hospital, Teri Eromanga, says while staff do get advance
notice of when the sea is likely to inundate the wards, she worries
for her patients.
floods right into the wards, flooded the patients on the floor - we
try to lift them onto something, but all their things are wet with
are safe now because we have a sea-wall, but I am worried because the
tides get stronger and stronger, that is my worry."
MP S'ua William Sio, who visited Kiribati and Tuvalu earlier this
year, says the rising sea is affecting more than just people's homes
or commercial property.
can't grow food crops properly, or have a fully-functioning
agriculture industry, the seawater is [intruding] into the
underground freshwater aquifers."
Mr Sio says the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu are resilient.
S'ua William Sio in Betio Village, Kiribati, earlier in
2016. Photo: Supplied
doing the best they can despite the overwhelming weight that is
obviously on the leadership of the country.
can sense and feel that weight, they are fighting for the very
survival of their countries, they are fighting for the very survival
of their people."
the land back
Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is working on
a major project on Kiribati: the Temaiku Bight reclamation.
it goes ahead, it will reclaim 327 hectares, lifting land in the area
to 2m above current levels.
early estimates are that it will cost $88 million and can be
completed by 2020, but MFAT needs other international partners to
help fund the project.
Temaiku Bight: Part of the area that could be reclaimed if the NZ Aid
project goes ahead. Photo:RNZ / Chris
Tuvalu, south of Kiribati, the New Zealand government has also been
involved in the filling of huge 'borrow pits' on the main island of
Funafuti, which were dug by American troops during World War II.
pits have filled with water, becoming very polluted, affecting
groundwater and the quality of life for residents.
dumps have, in the past, led to the contamination of drinking
water. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell
Zealand paid for the rubbish to be compacted and the pits filled,
which has resulted in an 8 percent increase in usable land on the
the level of the land by a few metres, however, is an interim
solution if current sea-level rise projections are correct.