Before Our Eyes: The sandbag walls of Kiribati

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is a Pacific nation comprising 33 atolls and islands and a population of about 110,000. When it gained its independence from the U.K. in 1979, it became the world’s only nation with residents in all four hemispheres. The atolls and islands of Kiribati have had permanent residents since they were settled by sea-going Micronesian explorers in canoes between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago.

The lands of Kiribati rise only 3-6 feet above a sea level that has been relatively stable for the last few thousand years, but less stable recently. The residents are now engaged in an ongoing battle with a rising sea that their president has already conceded they are destined to lose.

High tides flood and salinate farmland. Families erect sandbag walls in an effort to protect their homes.

Kiribati 1

Kiribati 2

Kiribati 4

Kiribati 5

Kiribati 6
Image credits: Kadir van Lohuizen, where will we go? – rising sea levels Project, Noor Foundation. The rising sea encroaches on farmland and residential areas of the islands of Kiribati. Residents protect their homes with sandbag walls.

Kiribati is expected to be largely submerged sometime in the second half of this century, a fate that has already been set by the CO2 emissions of industrialized nations between 1850 and now. It will become the first nation to be destroyed by climate change.

While individual families erect sandbag barriers around their homes, the government of Kiribati is actively planning for its own demise. It has purchased a 5,460-acre estate on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu, where the government intends to re-settle much of its population in a staged migration. Its schools have integrated into their curricula content intended to prepare young schoolchildren for the move.

(As I have written about, Fiji faces its own challenges from climate change.)

“To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that.”

Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, 2008


See more changes happening Before Our Eyes.

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