We are not refugees transcript
Lauren Day, honours project
Linda Uan: The seas were hitting from below and going up and going into the houses. One of them was our house. That was the first time that the so-called climate change global warming hit us in the tummy. It was scary, it was really scary.
Lauren Day: This is climate change ground zero. For a tiny nation already buckling under a dense and growing population, even a moderate rise in sea level could strangle many of its small islands. The sea the people have based their lives around is now threatening their very survival.
Kautuna Kaitara, Project Co-ordinator – Kiribati Adaptation Project: We can not relocate within Kiribati itself because for instance if I am living on the ocean side of the island and given it is only 200 metres wide, if I am struck from the ocean side and I gradually move inland, there will be a point when the whole island will be inundated or at one time I will be ending up on the other side of the island.
Lauren Day: People in Kiribati are already feeling the impacts of their precarious existence on this narrow island. Farva Papua (sic) is one of the many in Kiribati that have had their homes inundated during storm surges.
Farva Papua (sic): (translation) Last year when there were strong winds we had to move the houses up near the road. We had to make our property more stable.
Lauren Day: But people like Farva (sic) have little option but to continue battling the rising tide.
Farva Papua (sic): I want to move but I have nowhere else to go. So that's why we're dedicated to remain here to strengthen this property. It is up to the children now and what their thoughts are. I have reached the end of my maximum productivity and now I'm just waiting to die.
Lauren Day: Having to constantly rebuild and reinforce housing is a major setback to development but it is not the only threat to the inhabitability of the country. Sea level rise also has dangerous impacts on food and water security and this could see people forced to move long before their homes are under water.
Mike Foon, Acting Climate Change Policy Officer – Kiribati Office of the President: We depend on ground water and the soil is quite porous and any sea water that comes in or over crops eventually sinks down to the ground water level and that will have an impact on the water that we depend on. Not only the humans depend on that resource but the trees and the crops as well and therefore the question of our sustainability on the island at that point in time will be a major concern.
Lauren Day: The state of the country's ground water means Kiribati now has the highest rate of infant death from diarrhoea in the Pacific.
Kiribati woman: (translation) In the past, the water was fresh. Now we've been here for a few years and it's started to get salty and brackish. It's changed.
Lauren Day: Kukaha (sic) lost her entire garden due to the well water and like many in Kiribati now has to rely on expensive and often imported produce to feed her family. As the population swells this once self-sustained nation is facing massive health risks from the imports. Fifty-one per cent of the population now suffers from obesity.
Kiribati woman: (translation) Now that I don't have a garden, when we need fruit and vegetables we have to buy them at the market. Some are really expensive. Like a small paw paw can cost two to three dollars.
Lauren Day: Two or three dollars in Kiribati is several hours work at average wage and it is likely climate change will even affect the few options for employment here. One of the nation's largest export industries, copra, faces huge risks from erosion, drought and salinity caused by climate change.
Mike Foon: As the erosion gets severe you can see lines of coconut trees falling into the sea. As erosion gets more severe you will see the narrowing of land and not much space for coconut trees to grow and therefore I feel that will impact the copra industry as well.
Lauren Day: Many locals reminisce about the lost island of Beckamin(sic) where they had picnics under the coconut trees until it became inundated. But nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
Beckamin (sic) Island which at high tide is completely submerged is an example of how hard it is to separate the impacts of climate change and development. Its problems began around the time a causeway was built on the main island of Tarawa and even the sea walls are having an effect on the coastline. Along with erosion a report this year by academics in New Zealand and Fiji revealed that sea level rise is unpredictably leading to some erosion in other areas of the coast. But the widespread claims of islands growing are false, according to co-author Arthur Webb.
Arthur Webb, Programme Manager – Oceans and Islands Programme, SOPAC, Fiji: The media took the quantum leap of interpreting our work to say that atoll islands were growing vertically - so land height was growing vertically, which we categorically did not say. There is no mention of such a thing in our paper and they also made this large leap of faith in regards to all issues of vulnerability in atolls were therefore defunct. Again it is just absolute nonsense. It is almost like people like the idea of it sinking because it isolates it to just one island's problem. This is a global problem of unbelievable magnitude. Think of every major coastal city and their elevation. This isn't just the atoll's problem. This is many, many, countries' problem.
Lauren Day: And the fate of the atolls now depends on the decisions of these many countries.
Femail delegate (Copenhagen): Seal a deal - please help us to secure our homeland and our future. Thank you very much.
Lauren Day: People in Kiribati still feel betrayed by the lack of an outcome at last year's Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen. Whilst 73 countries signed up to the non-binding Copenhagen Accord, there is now evidence to suggest that the emissions cuts outlined within it are not nearly enough to limit global warming to the agreed 2 degrees Celsius. The injustice that the smallest contributors to the problem are the hardest hit, is not lost on the people of Kiribati.
Linda Uan: The big leaders from developed countries such as the U.S. and other big leaders are not really interested in small island nations like us. You almost get a feeling that it is OK to sacrifice 100,000 people than to hinder progress or development in their own countries.
Male delegate: The Republic of Kiribati needs all nations.
Lauren Day: But a solution can't be reached by the developed world alone. Developing countries account for 52% of emissions. While the chances of a vastly better outcome at the summit in Cancun Mexico are slim, the government still clings to hope for a solid commitment.
Teima Onorio, Vice President of Kiribati: We hoped the outcomes in Cancun would be more positive than what came out of Copenhagen. We believe that climate change is a big topic and I don't believe that immediate solutions can be this bad. It is important that consultations are ongoing and we continue to meet and discuss with one and another and see how we can politically bring facts of climate change that will encourage developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take other steps that will help alleviate the effect of climate change.
Lauren Day: But while governments try to secure a deal at the summit, people in Kiribati aren't holding their breath. They are fighting to adapt to changes they say they didn't cause.
Mike Foon: Ultimately most people want the island – they would want to stay in Kiribati for as long as we can.
Lauren Day: These men are building a sea wall to hold back the water from the causeway. They are part of a group called “The Kiribati Adaption Project” funded by aid from countries including Australia to help educate people about how to cope with the crisis they're already experiencing.
Kautuna Kaitara: An old lady was saying, I feel that the sun is getting closer to me, I am getting hotter and hotter, you know.
Lauren Day: Another of the nation's adaptation measures is preparing its population to slowly but surely leave Kiribati behind.
Teima Onorio: We need to take steps from now. We can't afford to wait and we need to look at options that will ensure the security of our people and we believe migration need not be that our people simply go as climate change refugees so to speak. We need to prepare our people so that should they need, or should they decide, to take steps as from now, migrating, they should be able to do so and be worthwhile citizens in that new country that they decide to move into.
Lauren Day: One of the nation's closest neighbours, Australia, is helping Kiribati prepare for the inevitable and rapid change. As well as attempting to conduct all teaching in English, Ausaid funds the Kiribati Australia Initiative to educate students in one of Australia's most in-need sectors. While it is not officially a planned migration scheme, many of the students have little chance of finding a job back in their homeland.
Wanita Limpus, Secretary, Kiribati Australia Association: We've got a lot of students here and my wish is that at the end of their courses they will be able to get jobs, be able to support their families and hopefully they can become citizens of this country and contribute to the economy.
Lauren Day: Wanita Limpus has her own very personal experience of climate change and migration.
Wanita Limpus: I went back in 2005 and moved my grandfather's grave because where the graveyard is, it is starting to be eaten away by the sea and we can see that eventually there will be no grave. So we decided that we would move it from the graveyard and move it to my family land so we buried him there.
Lauren Day:For the 200 million people predicted to be displaced globally by the climate change in 2050, rebuilding life away from home will present a range of new problems and concerns.
Linda Uan: One wonders whether, say, 100,000 people of our people go and reside in Australia. Would we still have equal rights and equal opportunities to the inhabitants of the land. That is number one. Number two – would we be treated like the Australians treat themselves or like they treat the Aboriginal people.
Lauren Day: The people of Kiribati will need preparation to leave behind the country that holds their stories, ancestral grounds and culture.
Linda Uan: We don't want to be refugees – we are not refugees and to be able to migrate with dignity is something that we must concentrate on.
Lauren Day: ut people like Kautuna Kaitara aren't waiting until it's too late. He's migrating to New Zealand under the Pacific Access Category and one of his motivations is the fear of climate change.
Kautuna Kaitara: As you know it is very near from here to the other side. One wave comes here it just hit the whole lot and we will all be out somewhere in the ocean on the other side or in the lagoon.
Lauren Day: As the original estimates on sea level rise look increasing conservative the people of Kiribati are determined to survive wherever the forces of change may take them.
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