Monday, November 10, 2008

Social disaster before rising seas in Kiribati?

Dev Nadkarni writes a long, interesting piece about Kiribati in Islands Business (Fiji): For Kiribati, the threat of submergence because of sea level rise seems distant when compared to the range of potentially disastrous ecological and economic problems it is faced with in the short-term.

…Everything one has heard and read about Kiribati being a nation that is supposed to be among the early victims of sea level rise, that may not even survive the next few decades rings true as the jet approaches the runway at Bonriki Airport on Tarawa, Kiribati’s capital. The extreme vulnerability of this ribbon-like string of atolls in the middle of the world’s largest ocean becomes apparent as their fraying edges constantly battered by the tides come into view.

…Despite the intense scrutiny of the scientific establishment, the interest of ecologists and aid agencies as well as the glare of the global media, islanders’ opinion on the submergence issue is sharply divided—and for all sorts of reasons ranging from anecdotal and experiential evidence on both sides of the argument, through religious beliefs, to downright cynicism.

…In fact, recent sea level data analyses suggest that the danger of submergence for Kiribati’s atolls—unlike the neighbouring atoll nation of Tuvalu—is no longer as immediate as was estimated earlier (estimates of 20 to 50 years have now been stretched to more like 80 to 100 years).

…Several projects aimed at mitigating climate change related problems are under way throughout Kiribati. Many of these adaptation projects are aid funded and are directed at helping residents cope with existing and future problems such as increased salinity in ground water, hygiene, taking measures against erosion and readying to face potential disasters.

“We have lived in these harsh conditions for thousands of years,” says one prominent citizen who did not wish to be named. “Adaptation comes naturally to us. I would rather that aid projects be directed at developing new skills to develop our economy.”...

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