• THE END. KIRIBATI is GONE.

    Nobody knows for sure what will happen in the far future. We only have projections of tomorrow, based on today. So in 2011, I went to Kiribati to see what is happening in a part of the World fatally threatened by climate change.

    The story of Kiribati mirrors the modern life in many developing Pacific countries – nations that have fallen to hardship due to global warming and rising sea levels. Kiribati is a small island nation of 33 atolls spread out in the South Pacific; the area is the size of Alaska but the amount of dry land could fit within Manhattan. Inhabited by about 100,830 people, Kiribati is among the world’s poorest countries. It has few natural resources other than fish and copra, the dried meat of coconut.

    Kiribati aroused my curiosity after I’d read an interview with Anote Tong, the president of the small island nation, who warned about his country becoming uninhabitable due to the rising sea levels and increasing salination. As Mr. Tong put it: “Kiribati might alreadyhave reached the point of no return. To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful, but I think we have to do that.” The story of a disappearing country was so powerful I just had to experience it for myself.

    I travelled to Kiribati for a month to witness first-hand the problems and challenges of the small island country. I focused on photographing the natives and their everyday lives. The story of Kiribati is a complex one, and the rising sea levels are by no means the only threat the country faces. While the country may go the way of Atlantis, there are even more severe and imminent problems with freshwater supply and with salination killing plant life. A quick look at the beaches reveals a sorry sight – dead coconut trees are everywhere, their roots suffocated by saltwater.

    By 2050, climate change is expected to reduce water resources in many small islands to the point where they become insufficient to meet.

    By the 2080s, many millions more people are projected to experience floods due to sea level rise. (IPCC, 2007)

    As if that weren’t enough, Kiribati also has serious problems with pollution. I found it inconceivable to be unable to swim in the island sea around South Tarawa (main island of Kiribati) due to polluted waters. And hand in hand with environmental issues go socio-economic troubles. The growing population and high unemployment rates hold a bleak future for the younger members of society.

    To tell the story more accurately and gain better insight into Kiribati’s agony, I conducted interviews with President Anote Tong, climate change activist Claire Anterea, and a representative of the World Bank, who was on a working visit to the islands.

    I’d also met with people from the village and paid a visit to the Kiribati community in Auckland. New Zealand seems to be the future for the Kiribati people, who are slowly leaving their islands and resettling in the Kiwi country.

    The main objective of the project is to invite people from all over the world to really think – and to take action in their everyday lives, to put pressure on world leaders. Not simply to enjoy the photos, but to actively consider what’s going on. The people of Kiribati don’t want us to just feel sorry for them. They want the world to admit responsibility for their problems related to climate change. Dear reader, I want you to think about this – whose responsibility it is, and how you can contribute to a better tomorrow.

    See THE STORY.

    • Introduction

      The story of Kiribati mirrors the modern life in many developing Pacific countries – nations that have fallen to hardship due to global warming and rising sea levels. Kiribati is a small island nation of 33 atolls spread out in the South Pacific; the area is the size of Alaska but the amount of dry land could fit within Manhattan. Inhabited by about 100,830 people, Kiribati is among the world’s poorest countries. It has few natural resources other than fish and copra, the dried meat of coconut.

      Kiribati aroused my curiosity after I’d read an interview with Anote Tong, the president of the small island nation, who warned about his country becoming uninhabitable due to the rising sea levels and increasing salination. As Mr. Tong put it: “Kiribati might alreadyhave reached the point of no return. To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful, but I think we have to do that.” The story of a disappearing country was so powerful I just had to experience it for myself.

      I travelled to Kiribati for a month to witness first-hand the problems and challenges of the small island country. I focused on photographing the natives and their everyday lives. The story of Kiribati is a complex one, and the rising sea levels are by no means the only threat the country faces. While the country may go the way of Atlantis, there are even more severe and imminent problems with freshwater supply and with salination killing plant life. A quick look at the beaches reveals a sorry sight – dead coconut trees are everywhere, their roots suffocated by saltwater.

      To tell the story more accurately and gain better insight into Kiribati’s agony, I conducted interviews with President Anote Tong, climate change activist Claire Anterea, and a representative of the World Bank, who was on a working visit to the islands. I’d also met with people from the village and paid a visit to the Kiribati community in Auckland. New Zealand seems to be the future for the Kiribati people, who are slowly leaving their islands and resettling in the Kiwi country.

      The main objective of the project is to invite people from all over the world to really think – and to take action in their everyday lives, to put pressure on world leaders. Not simply to enjoy the photos, but to actively consider what’s going on. The people of Kiribati don’t want us to just feel sorry for them. They want the world to admit responsibility for their problems related to climate change. Dear reader, I want you to think about this – whose responsibility it is, and how you can contribute to a better tomorrow.

    • President of Kiribati – Anote Tong

      Q: You have just came back from NY. You probably were in contact with the world’s leaders. How informed are they about Kiribati, do they even know where it is?

      A: It is a mission that I’ve been working on for years. I tried to tell the world of the problem we’re facing at on Kiribati, about the climate changes. There is no question, the world has heard it, but the question is what it will do about it. The visit of the secretary general of the United Nations I think would have focused a lot of attention on Kiribati. And suddenly secretary general made references in his statement to the United Nations general assembly about his visit to Kiribati.

      That was a powerful statement and only added to what I have been saying over the years. The secretary general has sent an independent observer and that adds a lot more weigh. We are hoping that soon the international community will do something about the problems we are facing with climate change.

      Q: What is for you the main challenge in Kiribati?

      A: There is a lot of speculation that a climate change is an event that will take place in the future. For the countries like Kiribati that are in the front line and are very vulnerable that is not true at all, because we are facing those challenges right now. We need people who have seen that, so they can communicate it to the international communities. We need to act right now, not in 5, 10 years. There are communities that are facing hardship and must be relocated. There’s erosion, water shortage and a lot of infrastructural damage. And there is also a threat of intrusion of seawater into food crops. So this is an event that is happening now and we need to make the international community understand that.

      Q: I’ve learnt that main issue in Kiribati is water shortage. What are your solutions for the water supplies?

      A: There is no way to stop what is happening and the scenarios being projected did not indicate that it’s going to stop on its own. We have to face the challenge and we have to do something about it. Increasingly as the time goes by, as the sea level continues to rise, the impact on the fresh water is going to become more severe. The question is what do we do? It’s a very difficult question. Most of the water we get from the underground waterlines, there is really no other option. We’ve tried to increase water storage, but that wouldn’t be a sustainable solution. I think we are faced with the reality and real possibility that our water supply will dry up over the years. And at the same time our population is actually increasing.

      Q: Are people of Kiribati even aware of the situation with the climate change? They might have to move from their homes?

      A: The people are informed, but the question is if they truly understand the implications of what is happening. It goes back to the way we live our life – we live our life on a day to day basis, we don’t tend to think about 5, 10 or 20 years time. It’s up to the leadership to think ahead. We’re trying to solve the problem, but should we inform the people to the extent that they begin to panic and begin so threatened that they don’t enjoy their day to day life? Or do we simply ask them to make a contribution when they can? And if they cannot, I suspect it’s a matter of the leadership to try and find a solution. We are looking to the international community to help us address this issue; there is no way we can do it on our own. Because after all, we aren’t responsible for this and we are still paying the price for it.

      Q: Different projections are saying that by 2050 there might be severe problems to living in Kiribati. How is it even possible to plan that far ahead? The people here are used of living day by day, catching fish for the next meal. Are you’re trying to improve education, what are your strategies?

      A: I think it’s not a matter of educating our people, it’s a matter of educating the international community. About the consequences of what had happened and their moral responsibility to deal with it. I think our people are the innocent victims. I don’t think there is much we can achieve by telling them they have a huge problem ahead of them. It’s a matter of telling this to an international community and educating the international community that they do have the responsibility to make a contribution to addressing the problem. The question is what will happen to the people and already there are our communities that have been displaced. There will come a time when we will have to consider moving beyond, because you can see geography - the islands are no more than 2 meters above the sea level. The sea level rises according to the projections and the ability of the land to sustain this population size will very reduced. We have to think in those terms.

      As leaders we have to continue to tell the international community they have a role to play and a moral responsibility to contribute to the solution. There is no question there.

      Q: According to my research there seems to be an opposition in the world when it comes to climate change in Pacific. There are some people who say Kiribati is extending at some point. How do you feel about those reports?

      A: There will always be difference of opinions on everything. On many subjects there will always be experts. And I think I‘ve challenged the people who say that, I’ve asked them to come to live here, leave their children and grandchildren here with us. That’s a true test, whether they believe or not what they’re saying. The evidence of what’s happening is there, we have communities that are beginning to be dislocated. We don’t need experts and scientists to tell as that. The structures of the islands is changing. Whether the question is land area is increasing or not, I don’t believe so. Maybe it’s a shift. Is a shift resulting in a net gain of land mass and the ability of the islands to sustain the population? My answer is no, it is not. It’s the over way around.

      Q: Where do you see potential for new jobs for young people? I’ve talked to many students and they would like to find work abroad.

      A: Climate is one of the issues that we face, but there’s also increasing population and limited resources. We’ve always realized that we need to find employment for our people, if not locally then abroad. And so we’ve been actively working on this and we’re grateful that there has been a response from some countries. Particularly from Australia and New Zealand to employ our people. But in the long term we have to consider the fact that the population will increase and the ability of the islands to sustain life will decline. We have to prepare our people to be relocated, we have to upscale them, otherwise they will become refuges. And I reject the notion that we are climate refugees. We have more than enough time to prepare our people. The question is will we relocate entirely and will happen to this country? My answer is no, it’s going to be a combination of many options. I believe we must maintain a nation. If necessary we’ll need to build-up some islands. Also, not everybody can or wish to relocate. Young people are keen to go abroad, they are more prepared for change than older people. Our job is to provide people with choices, whatever they are.

      Q: I’m really surprised that one as a president of a country is being so realistic. So you think there is no optimistic scenario? I’ve heard that Kiribati is a paradise on Earth. Do you think there is some perspective in tourism?

      A: Tourism has always been a potential here and there is also no question that Kiribati is a paradise. We are faced with many challenges. One is air services and telecommunications. Another is very high fare because we don’t have the air services competition – it is very expensive to come all the way here. I think we have the attraction, but we lack the infrastructure to fully develop our tourism industry. This does not mean it will no happen in the future, but at the moment only the very dedicated tourists will come all this way and we will encourage them. In our eastern islands we have a very deliberate policy on promoting tourism. But again, tourism itself won’t be able to solve the challenge of climate change.

      Q: What is the thing about Kiribati that you’re most proud of?

      A: We’re very proud of being in Kiribati and we have a wonderful culture, this is something we would like to share with the rest of the world and something that should never be lost. We watch the world as it goes by and we are inspired by the materials and possessions that the developed countries have. But at the same time I think we have one of the most wonderful possessions’ assets and this is our way of life and our culture. And we are proud of.

      Q: Do you think you can protect your culture from the increasing impact of television and internet from western world?

      A: The world will always be dynamic, change will always be here. The question is how long we can maintain our culture or the elements of our culture. I think it’s possible, we need a very deliberate policy. Our way of life will be threatened, there is no question there will be changes. But I think the way we handle change and maintain our culture or the elements of our culture is much more important.

      Q: Is there anything else you would like to ask or convey to the broader public?

      A: Climate change is one single most challenging issue of the global community at the moment. It is global, so everybody has got to be involved. Is our country willing to sacrifice people, just so the others can maintain their very high standard of living? Or will they be willing to make sacrifices too, so that humanity can survive? That is the question I want to ask.

    • Claire Anterea - Climate Change Activist

      Q: Please introduce yourself and tell us what is your mission?

      A: My name is Clair, I’m from Kiribati and the role I play in my community is to help people understand what climate change is, what climate change means to them, what are the impacts of it. I work with young people and we’re working on several projects. The first one is climate change awareness and water health. We visit different parts of Kiribati and have different workshops. We ask people if they’ve noticed some changes, what they think the impacts are and how can we adapt to them.

      The second project we’re working on is rainwater harvesting, which is the project from New Zealand Aid Programme. Young people conduct workshops for 10 recipients of rain tanks. Also, we attend international conferences where we can present our story to the world’s leaders.

      Q: How do you draw attention to the world? Do the world’s leaders even know where Kiribati is?

      A: Sometimes I really feel down, because our voices aren’t being heard. But I believe there are a lot of people there hearing our stories and our struggle. Maybe they aren’t the right people who need to hear that. The general secretary Ban Ki-moon came to Kiribati, which is a big thing for us, because he is someone with the heart to see the actual situation.

      Q: What is the main challenge for Kiribati from your perspective?

      A: The main challenge for my people that really affect our lives is water. Because it’s getting salty and people cannot afford rain tanks. That’s the main issue beside many others. If the sea is rising, we will lose the good water and we only get water from underground. We have a well, but the water is getting blackish and it’s hard to drink it.

      Q: How do you feel about this problem? Do you think it will be possible to solve it or is it too hard to compete with nature?

      A: I think it’s very hard to compete with nature, because we don’t have enough resources like other countries. They can change the sea into water. This is very a serious problem for the people of Kiribati.

      Q: Are the people of Kiribati aware of the situation? Do they know what is going on?

      A: Yes, they do. We’ve visited a few islands and we asked people there, if they know what the problem is, if they noticed any changes in their community. The first thing they said was the water is getting salty, so it is hard to drink it. During the droughts the water is salty and the rain tanks are empty. There are also not enough rain tanks around the community. People end up with lots of diseases and sickness.

      Q: Please tell me more aboute disappearing cemetery?

      A: At Betio there is a common cemetery that is near the ocean. Before the land was much further out, but now the sea is eating away the land and the cemetery is falling into the sea. This is the problem of many Kiribati’ cemeteries.

      This is a very sad situation, because what will happen to the burried bodies? We will have to take out the bones of our families and collect them to save them.

      Q: What do you think about the future? What will happen in 10, 50 years, will people have to move from Kiribati?

      A: I can’t really say people will move. But I believe that if there is no water here, people won’t be able to stay.

      Q: When people hear about the climate change, they usually think the island is going to sink. But this is the wrong perspective, right?

      A: In Kiribati there are 99% Christians. And they believe that God gave the promise that there will be no flooding. So people are really annoyed with us when we talk about climate change. They say we act like we know the mind of God and that we know everything. They don’t realize that this is the problem in the world.

      Q: So they think the God will save them?

      A: If island is going to sink, then God will provide something for us. But they still don’t believe there would be a flood and that God would take the country away. That’s the mentality here. And when you ask them if they experience any kind of changes, they list a lot of impacts. But for them that is not climate change.

      Q: Let’s talk about Kiribati culture. What are you being the most proud of in your country? What is the most positive thing that you would highlight?

      A: I’m a Kiribati woman and I’m so proud of my culture and identity. When I was around the world, I never experienced such powerful community and family values. We respect our elders; we share things with our neighbors, because we don’t have many things in our country or at our homes. We interact with each other a lot and I didn’t see that elsewhere in the world. When I was in Australia, I was crying every night, because I couldn’t see the connections between people. Everybody was just doing their own business. So the family and our priorities make us different and proud of our culture.

      Q: And also that you’re positive, friendly and that you laugh...

      A: Yes. When you walk along the road everybody says hi and asks you, where you are going, even though they’re not really interested to. “Where are you going” means I noticed you walking along the way. We respect our elder people. And also the discipline in schools and families is very important to us.

      Q: What are your wishes for Kiribati?

      A: I want to remain in my country and I want it to be like it was before – that we have seasons that we are aware of. I don’t want people to leave the country, I don’t want us scattered around the world. I want for us to maintain our identity.

      Q: So you don’t want people to move away and go to different places in the world? You want to stay united?

      A: That is what I wish. But if there comes a time, when we will have to move, I wish we all move together to one place. So we could still speak our language and teach our children our culture, even though their lives would be different, according to the new place. I wish the community, love and family all stay the same.

      Q: And that you will still be able to dance together...

      A: Yes, I want us to express our feelings through dance, through music and to tell our story. That’s our identity.

      Q: To conclude, would you like to say something more, would you like to send a message?

      A: For my brothers and sisters in Kiribati, I would like them to take care of our beautiful place, clean our beautiful place. For the leaders of world, I wish they would listen to what they hear in their hearts and accommodate our needs. I don’t only wish that for Kiribati, but also for our brothers and sisters in other low lying countries, such as Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and others.

    • Olivia Warrick - World Bank - Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management Specialist

      Q: Would you please introduce yourself?

      A: My name is Olivia and I’m a climate change adaptation advisor at the World Bank. I’m based in the Sydney office, which is sort of a Pacific hub office. We have a lot of development programs throughout the Pacific, one of them is also climate change adaptation. Kiribati is the first country where we started with climate change adaptation and we’ve been working on it since 2000.

      The program has 3 phases; the first one is focused on information gathering and capacity building, the second one, which has recently closed, was focused on piloting different adaptation techniques and the last one will be focused on the ground implementations, so scaling up a lot of the success stories from the second phase. We are focused on water resource management, coastal protection and capacity building. The idea is also to help local government become climate resilient without us being here. I’ve been involved in this project for only 3 months.

      Q: The president has drawn a lot of attention from the world because of the climate change situation. There have also been some reports that Kiribati might be gone by 2050?

      A: I think that the president has been very proactive promoting the climate change message and the plight of Kiribati. I see that as a very positive thing. I think between now and the time Kiribati are unsustainable to inhabit as a nation, there are a lot of things that we can do to prolong the time Kiribati are sustainable. There are a lot of problems that aren’t directly climate related, but they exacerbate vulnerability to climate change.

      Here on Tarawa the pollution of ground water resources is a major stressor. That is equally as important to address as climate change. Those are issues that can’t be separated. There is a lot we can do between now and the time Kiribati is unsustainable, we shouldn’t give up hope.

      Q: Do you think that people here are aware of the situation? How do you think that the people of Kiribati will cope with the changes?

      A: That’s a good question. I think that climate change is a scientific concept and it’s a very new thing for a lot of the Kiribati people. There is a lot of almost bemusement and confusion about this thing called climate change. A lot of people feel like they don’t know what to do. But they do know what to do, because a lot of the measures that will help them adapt to climate change are things they are already doing – things like good water resource management and good food security practices. All of these are things that can help people help cope with the changes. But I think because of the way climate change is currently communicated in Kiribati, it maybe creates a bit of a victim mentality. The perception is that climate change is something that always requires outside expertise, international consultants coming in to help fix it.

      And that is not true. There is a lot of capacity here on the ground in Kiribati for climate change adaptation and as I see people are already doing it.

      Q: What was the most positive experience here in Kiribati related to people and their cooperation with the World bank?

      A: The most positive aspect of the work that I’ve been involved in is the capacity building that’s occurred for some of the more technical aspects of climate change adaptation. As part of the World Bank project some rain water capture and storage initiatives were undertaken in Tarawa. Alongside those initiatives there were some rainwater harvesting guidelines that were developed in consultation with local people. The guidelines were developed in a way they would be applicable and usable for people here, given the resources and knowledge that they have. Those guidelines are now used in other projects too. Examples like that are the most heartening and positive outcomes I see of our involvement here. The capacity transfer between experts that come in and their local counterparts – I think there’s been a good transfer of technical skills and that’s really positive for the future.

      Q: How do you see Kiribati in 50 years?

      A: It’s a difficult question. What Kiribati will look like in 50 years will depend on the impacts of climate change, but it will also depend on other factors, like population policy and pollution control. There are many environmental problems here that may be, at least in the shorter term, a little more pressing than the longer term implications of climate change. What Kiribati will look like in 50 years is going to depend as much on those other factors as on the impacts of climate change.

      Q: Would you like to add anything in the end?

      A: I would like just to reinforce that Kiribati people shouldn’t be seen as helpless victims, because there’s a lot of capacity to tackle climate change here on the ground and that needs to be recognized. They are already doing things to help solve some of the climate change related problems. They might not be labeled yet as a climate change adaptation, but they are handling.

    • Katimero Iotebwa - Teacher, Abaiang island

      Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

      A: I work at a government secondary school. I work to earn money. I can’t live without money, because I live on the island in the rural area. With our lifestyle here on Kiribati money is easily spent, so we don’t rely on it. We can go to the nature and get some fruit.

      Q: Tell me a little bit about your village.

      A: There are many problems on the island and in the village. The biggest one is coast erosion. I don’t know the main reason for this, but I think the climate change could be the cause of it. Many villagers moved out from the village to the eastern or the ocean side to escape from the problem. The village has been completely eroded in the past 20 years.

      Q: What do you think about the future?

      A: We will need help and support from all of the countries to stop this, because we are not as developed as others. Maybe our government doesn’t have the support it needs to solve these problems, so our idea is to ask others to help us. That way we will be able to make our village as it was at the beginning.

      Q: Do you think that maybe in the next 50 or in 100 years Kiribati may be flooded?

      A: Yes, I think Kiribati will sink in the next 50 years.

      Q: Do you think that people have to move?

      A: Yes, they must move. They will have to move away from here, away from where they live now, because otherwise they won’t survive.

      Q: And how do you feel about that?

      A: Sometimes I feel sad. We try to make ourselves ready as much as we can.

      Q: Tell me something about the climate change and about the high tide.

      A: During the very high tide the water gets through the mangrove, to the papaya pits. It destroys the papaya pits and they are the life for the people of Kiribati. We cultivate the papayas for years and years, they provide food. The high tide also often damages people’s belonging, like trucks or motorcycles.

      Q: Are people in Kiribati aware of the situation, of climate change? Do they know what it is?

      A: Some do know what climate change is, mainly those who are educated – they learn in schools. But I think that most of the people do not know. Kiribati people on the outer islands don’t attend schools and they don’t learn about climate change.

      Q: But they do notice some changes?

      A: They know there are changes, they see the high tide, the erosion of the island … but they don’t know it’s because of the climate change.

      Q: Do you teach in school about climate change?

      A: I teach science and math, so I don’t teach about climate change. But there are some other departments that do teach about that too. I know there’s a topic about climate change in the social sciences.

      Q: Do you think there is hope for Kiribati in the future? Is it possible to save Kiribati?

      A: It is possible for other countries to help. They must help us, we are very little and we don’t have the resources to help ourselves.

    • Priest - Father Martin

      Q: Tell me about your community?

      A: I’m father Martin and I’m a priest here for a number of Catholics. We have about 5.000 people in my parish. I am here to serve and be with the people. The topic of climate change has become a political issue. But the impact of climate change that I experience is the weather. Recently we had very heavy rains, but in the previous years we had dry seasons with high temperature and no wind. The trees weren’t providing any fruits and it was very difficult because there was no water. There’s been no rain sometimes for 2 or 3 years.

      And even when it is raining, the amount of water is not the same as 10, 20 years ago, it is much smaller nowadays. We depend on underground water, so when there’s no or little rain, the water gets blackish and salty, it’s hard to drink it. Even in the places that usually had enough water the pure water is running out, so we rely on other sources.

      In the beginning of this year we were lucky, there was plenty of rain. But it’s not the same as 10 years ago. Now it rains for a short time and very heavily. That brings on floods and landslides.

      Q: There is a lot of erosion, right?

      A: Yes. That is because the amount of rain water that we experience now is so heavy, it is not like before. Before it was a shower and now it is more like a downpour. I spent 10 years working in meteorological department in the government and I see a big difference. Now a 10.000 liter rain tank, that some houses have, can be filled within an hour with that amount of rain.

      Q: What do you think the future of Kiribati is? Will people have to move away within the next 10 or 50 years?

      A: The impact of climate change is really big, we are experiencing heavy rains and hot temperatures. Now we are witnessing the highest temperatures ever - the temperature can rise up to 40 degrees. This phenomenon is new to us, it’s not like 20 years ago when I was in the meteorological.

      Q: How about the people, are they aware of the climate change?

      A: My own observation, from my contact with people, is that they are aware of the situation. They ask what is happening now? They see the difference between then and now and they are very uncomfortable with it. A local house, a thatched-roof house is ok when the climate is very cool. But now, with the high temperatures … When there is not raining, people rather sleep under the sky, because it is still too hot in their homes. Their houses are no longer suitable because of the climate change.

      With the sea levels rising, we experience erosion from one end of the island to the other. When the high tide comes, it takes away a lot of sand with it. When the sea moves away, you can see the effects. It’s lucky that we usually don’t have very strong currents.

      Of course the people are aware of the climate change, the see the difference between 20 years ago and the present time. It’s the amount of rain water, the temperatures, the sea water level. There’s a natural tendency to care when the problem happens. But in the beginning we take things for granted. It’s probably because we are isolated, there’s a tendency of “who cares”. We care only when there’s a problem – we wait for the time when’s there’s real danger. When the fire grows large we start running away, but when the fire was ignited, we stay and watch. That is, in a way, the mentality of the Kiribati people.

    • Community leader in Auckland, New Zealand - Charles Enoka

      Q: Would you please introduce yourself?

      A: My name is Charles, I'm a Kiribati community leader in Auckland. I've been in New Zealand for 7 years now and I have 6 children. My 2 sons are still living in Kiribati.

      Q: Can you tell me a bit about the Kiribati community in New Zealand?

      A: There are about 110 families in our community. The community is registered with the government of New Zealand and we have a lot of activities that are funded by the government.

      We meet every month as a community. Our executive board is elected by the community members and meets every fortnight. We have our own office space and our own community center. We focus on cultural activities - we have programs for maintaining our language and passing it on to our children. We also have our own church space and radio programme, 3 hours of airtime a week.

      Q: What is your story – what made you decide to move from Kiribati?

      A: Before coming to New Zealand I was a government employee. The decision to move to New Zealand was growing for a couple of years. Why New Zealand? It is close to Kiribati, so it thought it might be a good place. There are also more opportunities here, in terms of better education, better health services, employment and so on. I always wanted to provide the best for my children and Kiribati offers very limited opportunities due to growing population and climate change issues such as global warming and high sea levels. Migrating to New Zealand was a better choice for me and my wife.

      Q: So climate change was one of the main reasons?

      A: Yes, that's very true, climate change was one of the main reasons. I hate to see that many parts of Kiribati are eroded, because of the rising sea levels. The quality of the drinking water is not good, the trees are dying … a lot of things are happening in Kiribati because of global warming. And according to the studies Kiribati will sink in about 25 years from now. That's very sad and very, very devastating to us. It is unfair that due to this global effect we need to move. But I am one of the Kiribati people that had the guts to move out and I think I have made a good decision. Many of the people don't want to move because they love it there – life in Kiribati is simple. But the people are very much affected – the life, economy, the islands are affected. Our people are very silent and they just want it to be the way it was.

      Q: Do you think more people will follow you in the future?

      A: I would like to see more people follow that pathway, because we need to migrate. But I would also like to see a better solution for Kiribati. Many of our people don't want to leave, but then again, many do. I will encourage the young generation to migrate and become good citizens in other places and help the economies of those places. I think that is a positive thing to do.

      Q: What do you think about the future of Kiribati culture and tradition? Is it possible to preserve it, with the people leaving Kiribati?

      A: There has been a lot of discussion about that. Here in our community in Auckland our main focus is on maintaining our language and culture and reviving our cultural skills. That's why we have our cultural workshops. I believe our culture will not diminish if we continue to unite and maintain our language. We don't want to loose our identity and the way to retain it is through community activities – getting together, communicating. Culture is you and me, so you can't practice culture if you're on your own.

      Q: How about the young people, the teenagers and children in your community – do they speak the language of Kiribati or are there any problems with that?

      A: It depends. Some of the younger people that move to New Zealand and have children of their own speak English at home and that's very sad. We try to encourage them, through the community, to speak our language at home. Because the children speak English at school , with their friends and everywhere they go, it's up to the families to teach them our language and help maintain it. Our language will diminish if we don't speak it. If we don't teach it to our children, we will lose our language.

      Q: What about your identity? Family is very important in your culture, as well as positive thinking, kindness and the Kiribati smile. Is that Kiribati cultural signature still present in your community or is it being substituted with the more Western lifestyle?

      A: When we meet we still have that Kiribati smile, we still have that kindness, but there are changes. It is sad that our people migrating to New Zealand are much more attached to the Western lifestyle and we have lost some of our Kiribati values. There is a bit less kindness and eagerness to help. In Kiribati we were a simple society and wherever we go we share everything, even with foreigners – we treat them with respect and kindness. But in New Zealand, our people don't seem to always have time to do that anymore, life here is much faster.

      Q: Do you talk about the climate change in your community?

      A: We get a lot of news about the climate change and the effects on Kiribati. We haven't had the opportunity to raise awareness about it, maybe because we aren't directly affected, since we are in New Zealand now. But the people are aware of the climate change impacts on Kiribati.

      Q: How does it feel to see your country in such dire straits?

      A: Very devastating. I feel my identity, my culture and my Kiribati nation is diminishing. It is not fair, we are innocent. Who has brought these problems to the world? It wasn't us, but we are still vanishing from the world. It is very devastating and unfair. I would like to see the people responsible to help. Our people don't want to leave and it is going to be very funny when the time comes, because many of our will not relocate and will sink with Kiribati. I want to give a message to the world: I am migrating because I have been threatened. Kiribati is not going to be there for the future generations and you need to help.

      Q: Is there aything else you want to say?

      A: We have come to New Zealand and we want to be good citizens. Our people have already made huge contributions – they work hard, they pay their taxes, they send their children to school so they will have a good education. We need those kind of people to come to New Zealand. We believe we are adding value to New Zealand. We did not come here to be a burden, to be refugees or cause problems. That's why we have this community and the connection between us, so we can be responsive to the government, our people and other ethnic groups. This is us. You can count on Kiribati people.

    • About Ciril Jazbec


      Ciril Jazbec (1987) was born in Slovenia, which is where he first took up photography and visual storytelling. His desire to expand his horizons led him to London where he studied MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication. He is drawn towards stories that reach out and touch you, making you stop, think and take action in the midst of our ever-changing world.

      Moved by the story of the disappearing islands of Kiribati, Ciril had endeavored to capture the essence of the place whilst that remains possible. Through encounters with the locals, activists and the President, Ciril addresses environmental issues and offers a testament to the spirit of the people.

      Ciril is currently based in London, UK.

      Ciril Jazbec:
      E : ciril@ciriljazbec.com
      T : + 44 (0) 7867 695 057
      T : +386 (0) 40 465 812
      W : www.ciriljazbec.com

    • Buy Book

      You can help Kiribati by buying the book "THE END. KIRIBATI is GONE". All proceeds will go to the climate change organization Kiribati Climate Action Network – KiriCAN – and support their efforts to raise awareness among the people of Kiribati and to educate them about climate change and possible adaptations to it. KiriCAN is the first CC NGO established in Kiribati.

      Buy the book at Blurb (Large - uncoated paper)

      Buy the book at Blurb (Large)

      Buy the book at Blurb (Standard format)

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      Photography: Ciril Jazbec

      Content: Ciril Jazbec

      Design: vbg.si

      Code: opalab