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STATELESS BY DEGREES
<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Water is the key issue affecting Kiribati’s future: There is too much of the salt variety surrounding the islands and not enough fresh water under them. Children bathe in well water, tapping into the shallow water lens underneath South Tarawa. Overuse of fresh water on a daily basis allows salt water to contaminate the lens. The current population on South Tarawa is pushing the fragile water supply to its limits.

Climate Change: A Line In The Sand

Scenes of everyday life in Kiribati, a disappearing country.


<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

The Central Pacific island Nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kirr-i-bas) consists of 32 coral atolls and one raised limestone island with an average height-above-sea-level of only two metres. The islands are stretched across two million square miles of ocean.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

The toy of choice for young children is an old car tyre, masterfully driven with two sticks. This young boy from a squatters’ settlement near the airport had his face painted blue. I was told, with a chuckle, that it helped ward off evil — an old superstition.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Packs of dogs wander all over South Tarawa. These two were part of a larger pack that hung around Bonriki Airport. A lot of infrastructure, such as this public telephone, is damaged and unserviceable.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

A fisherman prepares his net to fish off the “Nippon” causeway that connects the Captial of Betio (pronunced Basio) and the settlement of Bairiki. The causeway was completed in the 1980s and was a gift from the Japanese government.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Children play on the rusting hulk of a boat left on the shore, along with cars and all sorts of metal debris. Heavy metals from these rusting hulks leaches into the shallow fresh-water lens, contaminating the main source of fresh water on South Tarawa.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

With space at a premium, the main waste disposal area on South Tarawa is situated on a narrow causeway with the sea on one side and a lagoon on the other. All garbage generated on the island is either discarded in the ocean or ends up in this finite space.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

“Te Euangkerio” (The Gospel) was used to ferry vital supplies and people between the Kiribati islands. Now abandoned and rusting with other metal waste, it makes a challenging — and dangerous — playground for children.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Children play on a British-made 8-inch Vickers gun. It was sold to the Japanese during the Sino-Russian conflict and transported to Tarawa by the Japanese during WWII to be used against the United States during the costly battle of Tarawa in November 1943.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Villagers remove sand from the reef for building and to sell. This contributes to erosion in some parts of the island group.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Children make boats out of styrofoam packaging on an area of the beach which is also used as a public toilet. Kiribati has one of the highest infant-mortality rates in the Western Pacific, with 37.6 deaths per 1,000 babies in the first year of life. The lack of a proper sanitation system plays a large part in this death toll.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Kiribati has a young population, although life expectancy has risen slightly over the past decade (in 2012 it was 64.76). Half the population, now estimated at 103,000, is under the age of 25.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

A stick as a bat and a cork fishnet float as a ball: children at play in the village of Riboono, Abaiang Island, north of Tarawa.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

The Church at Tebunginako on Abaiang may soon have to be deserted as high tides and storm surges threaten its foundations.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

South Tarawa has a population density higher than Manhattan, so many of the community’s pigs are housed on the beach just above the high-tide mark. From these makeshift sites, contaminants leach into the fresh-water supply and the lagoons.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Fishermen return from fishing the high tide out on the reef as an afternoon storm builds out to sea.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

The runway at Bonriki International Airport is not fenced and is used as a thoroughfare. A red flag is raised on the control tower and a warning horn sounds prior to every aeroplane arrival and departure.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Internet services, a connection to the outside world, are offered by many shops along the only road on South Tarawa.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

By the time this 3-year-old reaches the age of 20, the population of South Tarawa is predicted to reach more than 90,000 and could be as high as 130,000 – straining resources and infrastructure already at breaking point.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Children from Tebunginako on Abaiang Island stare into their village church. By the time they’re in their teens it is likely that the sea will have claimed their place of worship. Already, what remains of their original village is under water at high tide.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Soccer in the shadow of the stand at Bairiki’s stadium. The stand is the highest and most substantial structure on Tarawa, and it fills to overflowing during tsunami alerts.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

Evening church service at The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses on South Tarawa.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

The squatters’ camp near Bonriki Airport is directly above the sensitive subterranean water lens that supplies the whole island of South Tarawa with fresh water.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

In Kiribati, religion is evident in every aspect of life. The Mormon church, for example, runs some of the best-maintained schools and facilities on Tarawa and the outer islands. In the church grounds, an energetic game of volleyball is played under lights on Betio.

<p>Mike Bowers/The Global Mail</p>

Mike Bowers/The Global Mail

The islanders are fearless mariners, taking their small runabouts well out of sight of land to fish and travel between the outer islands.

13 comments on this story
by Tim

Maybe we could allow climate change sceptics to swap places with people at Tarawa.

April 16, 2013 @ 2:02pm
by MikeP

The main problem here is the same problem that will end up consuming the World. Too many people. Birth control should be a priority. There appears to be numerous churches, as elsewhere in the Pacific. They need to assist with this problem. Letting God look after it will end in misery.

April 16, 2013 @ 7:29pm
by sav

I am posting here because there is no provision for it in the main story.

I'm afraid you've been had Bernard. The guy in the red shirt is not standing in ruins he is standing in common old garden variety rocks. Nobody but nobody in Kiribati would be so stupid as to build on the beach. They just don't do it and neither do their Melanesian neighbours in the Solomons and Vanuatu. Yes, I have visited all three.

That area has been suffering cyclones for thousands of years. The natives always build back from the beach, clear of salt water surge and among the trees. They get both shade and safety. You will never see a Pacific island native village on the beach. On the other hand us dumb whiteys do it all the time.

The natives have a long held habit of telling whiteys what they want to hear. They don't see it as lying, it's just what they do. " Yes " quite often means " No ". Some Pacific languages do not contain the word " No ".

The salt water coming from underground is because of overpopulation and nothing more. The atoll cannot produce underground fresh water quickly enough for such a large population. The coastal erosion has been caused by tsunamis and cyclones. Look up your own newspaper records and you will see that the Solomons have had a pile of earthquakes in recent years. There have also been quite a few cyclones. The islands are not sinking.

It is very common for the natives to tell whitey a sad story in order to win some sympathy and hopefully a few freebies. You have been had by the experts Bernard. Being poor does not make them stupid. I lived in Vanuatu and Solomons for two years.

April 17, 2013 @ 12:50am
by mv

Quite right. Climate change has nothing to do with it. The problem is overpopulation putting pressure on water supplies and every other aspect of life creating poverty and all its associated ills. The islands are not sinking, except from the weight of simply too many people. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions will do nothing to solve these problems. This kind of misinformation is more destructive to the I-Kirbati than anything the climate might do. How about looking at the genuine problems and making some constructive suggestions rather than this pile of bleeding heart confection?

April 17, 2013 @ 2:07pm
by Denier Buster

If you advocate population control, you need to practice what you preach. The islanders of Kiribati consume very little, it is those in the developed world, primarily the USA and Australia who need to stop producing. Advocating birth control is the typical selfish response of those in the west. It is the west that is causing the problem and it is to do with CLIMATE CHANGE.

April 18, 2013 @ 7:44pm
by Frenchfarmer

Ain't it funny how, when the western religions arrive, the social structure disintegrates.

April 19, 2013 @ 6:41am
by Lee Shipley

WSeehile this is a rather nice photo essay, it does not touch on the wellsprings of the problems.. BBC's extensive and mature analysis off the over population issue http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15449959

April 19, 2013 @ 3:42pm
by Tara

Here we see the devastating results of Western Imperialism. Do these people even know who they are anymore? I suppose more to the point do Western Imperialists?

April 19, 2013 @ 4:51pm
by Taan

I'm an I- Kiribati living now in beautiful NZ, so sad to learn...but very grateful for the scenarios, quite hard to understand when you're inside a 'circle'

April 21, 2013 @ 6:36am
by Maria Tiimon Chi-Fang

Pacific Islands such as Kiribati and Tuvalu have long been advocating for strong reductions in greenhouse gas emisiions to avoid the impacts of climate change. Kiribati is one of the poorest countries on earth and contributes only 0.3 kt per 1,000 people to climate change. While the developed countries are so worried about their future economy, Kiribati is very concern about their lives, their future, their culture and their identity. As an I-Kiribati, a Pacific Islander, let's all work together to combat this issue and end this injustice. peace

May 3, 2013 @ 2:41pm
Show previous 10 comments
by Steve Bishop

The photographs fail to illustrate the impact of higher tides. Surely Mike mist have taken a photo of the remains of the original village of Tebunginako on Abaiang Island which he says are now inundated at high tide.

May 6, 2013 @ 9:20am
by peter

100 000 refugees, and maybe very soon if their contaminated water supply gives way. I believe they are importing drinking water which suggests incremental but costly changes to maintain life currently are not going to cut it and 100 000 (roughly our 457 visa population) are going to be air-lifted. Where? I understand they are buying land in Fiji but Aust/NZ need to get ready. Are we?

May 23, 2013 @ 1:51pm
by Shayera

There’s an African proverb that goes, “We do not own the land, but have merely borrowed it from our children”, which in essence compels us to ask ourselves- what legacy are we going to leave behind for our children and children’s children? http://msshayera.blogspot.com/2012/03/global-warming-and-rising-sea-levels.html

November 12, 2013 @ 12:21am
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