Kiribati: Island Nation Explores Moving Entire Population to Fiji


Fearing that climate change could wipe out their entire Pacific archipelago, the leaders of Kiribati are considering an unusual backup plan: moving the populace to Fiji.

Kiribati President Anote Tong told The Associated Press on Friday that his Cabinet this week endorsed a plan to buy nearly 6,000 acres on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. He said the fertile land, being sold by a church group for about $9.6 million, could provide an insurance policy for Kiribati's entire population of 103,000, though he hopes it will never be necessary for everyone to leave.

"We would hope not to put everyone on one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it," Tong said. "It wouldn't be for me, personally, but would apply more to a younger generation. For them, moving won't be a matter of choice. It's basically going to be a matter of survival."

Kiribati, which straddles the equator near the international date line, has found itself at the leading edge of the debate on climate change because many of its atolls rise just a few feet above sea level.

Warming oceans could melt ice faster than expected

Tong said some villages have already moved and there have been increasing instances of sea water contaminating the island's underground fresh water, which remains vital for trees and crops. He said changing rainfall, tidal and storm patterns pose as least as much threat as ocean levels, which so far have risen only slightly.

Some scientists have estimated the current level of sea rise in the Pacific at about 2 millimeters (0.1 inches) per year. Many scientists expect that rate to accelerate due to climate change.

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace via AP, file In this 2005 photo released by Greenpeace, Pita Meanke stands beside a tree as he watches

Fiji, home to about 850,000 people, is about 1,400 miles south of Kiribati. But just what people there think about potentially providing a home for thousands of their neighbors remains unclear. Tong said he's awaiting full parliamentary approval for the land purchase, which he expects in April, before discussing the plan formally with Fijian officials.

'We're trying to secure the future' Sharon Smith-Johns, a spokeswoman for the Fijian government, said several agencies are studying Kiribati's plans and the government will release a formal statement next week.

Kiribati, which was known as the Gilbert Islands when it was a British colony, has been an independent nation since 1979.

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Tong has been considering other unusual options to combat climate change, including shoring up some Kiribati islands with sea walls and even building a floating island. He said this week that the latter option would likely prove too expensive, but that he hopes reinforcing some islands will ensure that Kiribati continues to exist in some form even in a worst-case scenario.

"We're trying to secure the future of our people," he said. "The international community needs to be addressing this problem more."

Tong said he hopes that the Fiji land will represent just one of several options for relocating people. He pointed out that the land is three times larger than the atoll of Tarawa, currently home to more than half of Kiribati's population.

Although like much of the Pacific, Kiribati is poor — its annual GDP per person is just $1,600 — Tong said the country has plenty of foreign reserves to draw from for the land purchase. The money, he said, comes from phosphate mining on the archipelago in the 1970s.

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Comment by Kris H on June 8, 2014 at 9:24pm

Kiribati President speaks on CNN about rising sea level.
Comment by Kris H on December 4, 2013 at 2:18am
Sinking and saltwater intrusion continues in Kiribati.
Comment by Kris H on May 5, 2013 at 7:43am
Decided to look for an update on Kiribati, and found a very good, descriptive article:

It talks about how people on outer islands have had to cram into the main island city, and how that has exacerbated the problems with freshwater availability. There is no more space for housing, nor for graveyards, which are full. People are burying dead and feces where they wish, risking leaching into drinking water sources. Cholera is a big risk.

They talk about migration options. It is interesting to note how Australia has agreed to take any horticulturalists and nurses. Hmm... I wonder why only those occupations...

It looks like they are planning to let their people stay and die, unless they can prove useful to another country, like they are being groomed for slavery if they want to live. And they have no idea about it. Yet.
Comment by Kris H on May 31, 2012 at 3:49am
I just watched a handful of other videos related to the one I posted previously. In addition to sea level rise, they also have been facing drought and saltwater contamination of wells, leading to lost crops and increased illness.
Comment by Kris H on May 31, 2012 at 2:48am

Found this YouTube video on Kiribati sinking. It was posted this week, but not sure how recent the filming is.
Comment by Howard on March 9, 2012 at 8:58pm

See also: Fiji Flooding

"The islands at the plate borders in this region do not do well during the plate adjustments to come. The primary devastation will come during the hour of the pole shift, but the devastation has started during the 7 of 10 adjustments. Samoa rides on the Pacific Plate, which is pushing under eastern edge of the Indo-Austalian Plate, and as this process continues and accelerates, approaching the pole shift, will virtually disappear. The Solomon Islands do not fare much better, for the same reasons. Tonga and New Caledonia ride high. The little Fiji Plate, as the recent sinking indicates, will be a loser, pushed down into the notch as the Pacific Plate presses ever westward."

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