Please take a moment to view extracts from a documentary film about how climate change is affecting Kiribati. Many thanks to the crew for allowing us to use this video.
What effect will climate change have on health in the Pacific? ABC News Australia environment journalist Sarah Clarke is exploring this question in a five-part series for the ABC…
With climate change forecasts showing the Pacific will face hotter days and more extreme weather in the future, climate scientists and medical authorities say the implications could be serious for human health.
The (Australian) Federal Government’s Climate Commission is predicting a warmer Pacific will produce more heart attacks, strokes, exhaustion and more heat-related deaths.
Pacific countries are already copping the brunt of climate change, with water and food problems causing displacement.
The report also says there is the potential for a greater spread of disease transmitting mosquitoes as rainfall patterns change.
“It’s not only mosquitoes that will thrive in warmer and wetter conditions but it will also be influenced by their natural host populations before they spill over into humans,” he said.
Q&A With Kiribati Adaptation Program – Phase III Project Manager Kautuna Kaitara
What is a water reserve?
A water reserve is an area of land that is reserved for the extraction of water. That is, no other activities are allowed on this land except pumping of water.
What is the purpose of a water reserve?
The purpose of declaring a water reserve is to minimise pollution of the water in this area. Water reserves are common throughout the world – in Australia the catchment areas for dams are normally some sort of reserve area.
Why is it important to have water reserves in Kiribati?
In Kiribati it is extremely important because we only have very limited water treatment and to provide additional treatment would be extremely expensive in terms of both initial outlay and operating expenses.
We want people to be healthy and have healthy drinking water. That’s why it is important to stop people toileting on the land, and pigs and other livestock using the land because that can introduce potentially very harmful bacteria. Agricultural activities, such as growing of vegetables, can also introduce harmful chemicals such as nitrates.
These aren’t the only issues. The mining of sand and gravel from the area can introduce pollutants in the process, and leaves the lens much more vulnerable because it removes a layer of protection of the water. Industrial and other activities, such as fixing of cars and letting cars die on the reserves, can also introduce very harmful chemicals and petrochemicals.
Why is ground water on South Tarawa polluted?
Given that the population density of South Tarawa is so high, and polluting activities take place on almost all the land of South Tarawa, the water lens underlying South Tarawa is extremely polluted and is not suitable for human consumption, probably even after boiling. There used to be water reserves at Betio and Teaoreareke as well as Buota and Bonriki, but the first two had to be abandoned due to population growth. The water reserves are 50-metres or more inland from the edge of the land so you would need considerable overtopping before they are affected and there are people living on the edge who will be affected long before climate change affects the water reserves.
Is there an unlimited supply of water in the water reserve?
No. The other important factor with the water lenses are that they have a limited holding capacity and if you overpump them it causes the mixing of the fresh and salt water. This will take a generation to repair if it is well mixed. It is critical that the water reserves are not extracted beyond the sustainable yield.
Facts about KAPIII
The Kiribati Adaptation Program- Phase III (KAPIII) is a five-year project under the Office of the President and funded via the World Bank GEF LDCF Trust Fund with co financing from the governments of Australia and Japan, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery partnership, as well as in-kind from the Government of Kiribati.
The objective of KAPIII is to improve the resilience of Kiribati to the impacts of climate change on freshwater supply and coastal infrastructure.
Freshwater supply projects from 2012 to 2016 include working closely with the MPWU and PUB to manage assets and provide training to staff, the installation of four new rainwater harvesting works and two infiltration gallery works in North and South Tarawa, the detection and repair of leaks in the groundwater pipe system from Buota to Betio and the rehabilitation of the Buota Water Reserve.
Climate change exacerbates public health problems in Tarawa and throughout Kiribati.
The incidence of ciguatera poisoning, diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition, and vectorborne diseases, such as dengue fever, rise as a result of increased temperatures and changes in rainfall.
Increased rainfall will likely result in a reduction in the overall rate of diarrhoea due to improved water quality and availability (though flooding may also lead to groundwater contamination). Decreased rainfall—particularly if it resulted in an increase in droughts—would increase the incidence of diarrhoea, as water shortages exacerbate sanitation problems.
However, the projected rise in temperature may increase the incidence of diarrhoea, primarily by increasing the likelihood of spoiled or contaminated food. Sea level rise could also increase the incidence of diarrhoea by decreasing the size of the freshwater lens, exacerbating overcrowding conditions, and disrupting sanitation and water supply.
The village of Tebunginako on the island of Abaiang is a barometer for what Kiribati can expect in the future. The community has had to relocate due to the effects of severe coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion. These impacts are already felt on the atolls of Kiribati and will be exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
When a coconut tree dies, the decay starts at the top. First the fruit falls, then the leaves. All that is left is a desiccated trunk, cut off at half-mast. In a low-lying area flooded with seawater, the dead palms look like natural tidal gauges, the high water mark visible on their stranded remains. There is no shortage of them in Tebunginako, a tiny village on an outer island of the Pacific republic of Kiribati.
Over the past 40 years the villagers have seen the sea rise, storm surges become more frequent and spring tides more forceful. Eventually the erosion was so great that the village had to be abandoned. The remains of about 100 thatched homes and a community meeting hall, or maneabe, sit up to 30 metres offshore. ”The contamination of the groundwater started in the late ’70s, and after that erosion started and houses started to fall into the sea,” recalls Aata Maroieta, the village chief said. ”The force of erosion was stronger than the sea walls and eventually the Government said, ‘All you can do is relocate.”
At Tebunginako, the money might have to be spent on another relocation. The village was rebuilt about 15 years ago, initially about 50 metres from the shore. It wasn’t far enough. Each day at high tide a handful of houses and the village’s biggest buildings—a Catholic church and giant concrete maneabe—are surrounded by a saltwater moat as the sea flows in and floods what was once a fresh-water pond.
Just like the coast, the food supply is in retreat. The fresh water milkfish that once fed the entire village are long gone, and plant life is fatally overdosing on salt. Taro—a starchy vegetable that grows in groundwater pits more than 200 metres from the coast—is increasingly killed by king tides.
Each year, villagers need to head further inland to find fresh food and water, but Kiribati’s 33 coral atolls and islands are skinny and average a height above sea level of only two metres. Inland only goes back so far.
”It is very difficult to find food these days,” Mr Maroieta says. ”It makes us feel sad that there is nothing left of our village. This is the place of our ancestors and we feel threatened and vulnerable.”
According to a World Bank report, Kiribati’s capital of Tarawa—where nearly half the population lives—will be 25-54 per cent inundated in the south and 55-80 per cent in the north by mid-century unless there is significant adaptation. Factor in what this means for poisoning of groundwater, destruction of limited arable land and spread of disease, and you have an unlivable national capital.
Kiribati’s response to climate change is focused on adaptation. Its adaptation program, backed in part by AusAID, is carrying out a scientific risk assessment for Tarawa. Kautuna Kaitara, national director of the Kiribati Adaptation Program, says the country’s airstrip will be slowly “eaten away” and water supply spoiled unless there is swift action.
In the meantime, locals are forced to take things into their own hands. Albert Ientau has lived on the water’s edge in Abarao village since 1982. He has continually had to rebuild his sea wall, and more. Mr Ientau is no fool—his re-built house is on makeshift stilts—but the water is lapping at is door before high tide, but as you can see here in this photo series, he often has to roll large boulders into the water in what appears a forlorn exercise to prevent it from returning.
Many villagers have little or no understanding of climate change, but say they know they are witnessing a shift: increasingly intrusive seas, as well as stronger and less predictable winds and more intense heat. “The average i-Kiribati [Kiribati inhabitant] certainly thinks it’s getting hotter,” says Emil Shutz, a former government minister who now runs tours for the country’s few recreational visitors. “Ten years ago they could fish all day, but not any more – it is just too hot.”
There are parts of Kiribati where you can’t see the water, most notably in the southern Tarawa hub of Betio, but the threat of climate change is consistently there. The first thing you see when you land are the sandbags that try, and fail, to stop spring tides from flooding the only airstrip. If you are forced to go to hospital, you may get your feet wet. It is regularly inundated.
The effects of climate change can already be seen throughout most islands of Kiribati and
predictions for the future show a strong need for adaptation.
Case study 1: Tarawa: The World Bank recently predicted the capital island of Tarawa, where nearly half the country’s population resides, will be 25 to 54 per cent inundated by water in the south and 55 to 80 percent in the north by 2050 unless significant adaptation is undertaken.
Case study 2: Abaiang: Unfortunately, adaptation has come too late for some villages. The village of Tebunginako in Abaiang Island has already had to relocate due to the effects of severe coastal erosion and saltwater instrusion.
Global food inequality is driving type 2 diabetes in the large numbers of people who are malnourished on the one hand and obese on the other, Tim Smedley reports for The Guardian …
The link between diabetes and climate change is highlighted in a new report from the IDF and supported by Bupa, which aims to put non-communicable diseases (NCDs) high on the international agenda.
Climate change is expected to cause people to migrate, increase slum growth, and makes resources scarce.
Rapid migration and urban slums also lead to food shortages and malnutrition which increase the risk of diabetes. In a cruel irony, the world’s poorest one billion people account for just 3% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but experience the most devastating impacts of climate change. Small island states are at especially high risk and are disproportionately affected by diabetes, with rates of more than 20% in the adult populations of Pacific islands such as Kiribati, Samoa and Tuvalu.
It is a self-perpetuating problem. Where diabetes is caused by sedentary lifestyles, argues the report, there is a rise in GHG emissions from food production and car travel: “A population in which 40% of people are obese requires 19% more food energy than a population with a normal BMI distribution.”
Press Release, Bairiki, Tarawa 18 September, 2012
BANABA Island residents now have access to almost one million litres of rainwater thanks to the success of the Kiribati Adaptation Program’s (KAP) rainwater harvesting works.
In a joint effort between KAP, the Ministry of Public Works and Utilities (MPWU), King Holdings and the local community, construction of the Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) works was completed on 12 June, 2012.
The works, incorporated under Phase II and Phase III of KAP, comprised of various tasks needed to retrofit rainwater harvesting systems for water collection, transmission and storage infrastructure. This included the restoration of two water tanks, the installation of guttering on the desalination plant and old workshop buildings and maintenance training for a local technician.
The success of the project and regular rainfall during the past two months resulted in the tanks reaching the maximum capacity of 950,000 litres, KAP Project Manager Kautuna Kaitara said.
“Everyone involved is celebrating the successful deliverance of rainwater to Banaba, an island that is in the gravest need of water,” Mr Kaitara said.
“To give you an idea of the scale of the project, a standard rainwater tank is 5000 litres and Banaba’s new tanks hold a combined capacity of nearly one million litres. That’s the equivalent of 190 standard tanks,” he said.
The size of the roof catchment areas was about 10 times the size of a standard maneaba, he said.
“During the phosphate mining days, most water had to be imported from overseas. Then, the island depended solely on desalination.
“This proves there was no clean water supply available to the island and justified the dire need for the rainwater project.”
Banaba Island is 6.5km2 and part of the Gilbert Island chain. With just 295 residents, the one-time phosphate mining island is vulnerable to water shortages because there is no surface water or significant reservoirs of ground water.
Prior to KAP’s RWH works, Banaba Island residents depended on a combination of desalinated water and to a lesser extent rainwater.
However, the desalination plant was expensive to operate and the isolation of Banaba Island made maintenance works difficult, KAP and MPWU Senior Water Engineer Marella Rebgetz said.
“Before when the desalination plant broke down or required maintenance, Banaba had limited reserve water supply,” Ms Rebgetz said.
“Now, in most years, there should not be a need to operate the desalination plant at all,” she said.
“The project also delivered a water education program, additional materials for local communities to undertake further rainwater harvesting, and training to the local water technician to ensure the works is well-maintained in the future.
“I’m very proud to have been associated with this project. The tanks are now full and the water supply for the people of Banaba is much more secure.”
The Kiribati Adaptation Program began its third phase (KAPIII) in mid-2012. KAPIII aims to improve the resilience of Kiribati to the impacts of climate change on freshwater supply and coastal infrastructure.
KAPIII will achieve this objective under four key components to be achieved by 2016:
- Improve water resource use and management;
- Increase coastal resilience;
- Strengthen the capacity to manage the effects of climate change and natural hazards; and
- Project management, monitoring and evaluation.
KAP III has a total cost of US$10.8million and will be financed through grants via the World Bank from Government of Australia; the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Least Developed Country Fund (LDCF); Japan Policy and Human Resources Development (PHRD); Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR); and in-kind contribution from the Government of Kiribati.
Kiribati has one of the highest rates of ciguatera poisoning in the Pacific (Lewis and Ruff 1993). The disease is contracted by consuming reef fish that have been contaminated by ciguatoxins.
A recent study found a statistically significant relation between sea surface temperatures and the reported incidence of ciguatera fish poisoning in Kiribati (Hales and others 1999). This relation was used to model the projected increases in ciguatera poisoning. The model shows that a rise in temperatures is expected to increase the incidence of ciguatera poisoning from 35–70 per thousand people in 1990 to about 160–430 per thousand by 2050.
These results should be interpreted cautiously, as the model is based on many uncertainties and limited data. The overall impact of climate change on ciguatera should perhaps be measured not in terms of incidence rates but in terms of how people respond to the increased risk (Ruff and Lewis 1997). This may include changes in diets, decreased protein intake, increased household expenditures to obtain substitute proteins, and loss of revenue from reef fisheries. In addition, reef disturbance has been linked to ciguatera outbreaks (Ruff, 1989; Lewis 1992), suggesting that improved management of coastal areas would be an important adaptation strategy.