Reuters photojournalist David Gray visited South Tarawa recently, here’s what he had to say …
The ocean laps against a protective seawall outside the maternity ward at Kiribati’s Nawerewere Hospital, marshalling itself for another assault with the next king tide.
Inside, a basic clinic is crowded with young mothers and newborn babies, the latest additions to a population boom that has risen as relentlessly as the sea in a deeply Christian outpost where family planning is still viewed with skepticism.
It is a boom that threatens to overwhelm the tiny atoll of South Tarawa as quickly as the rising seas. Some 50,000 people, about half of Kiribati’s total population, are already crammed onto a sand and coral strip measuring 16 sq km (6 sq miles).
“Climate change is a definite long-term threat to Kiribati, there’s no doubt whatsoever about that,” says Simon Donner, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia who has been visiting South Tarawa since 2005.
“But that doesn’t mean it’s the biggest problem right now … Any first-time visitor to Tarawa is not struck by the impacts of sea level rise, they’re struck by how crowded it is.”