Climate Witness: Ben Namakin, Kiribati and Micronesia
At the CSP, I implement The Green Road Show (GRS). This is a very famous, fun and interactive tool that teaches children in elementary schools, high schools, the college, and community members about many issues, including climate change.
The impacts of flooding - coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, infrastructure destroyed
During my childhood days in Kiribati, we never experienced severe sea flooding. There were storms, but they weren’t that bad. As the sea levels continue to rise in Kiribati, several king tides hit the island. Saltwater intrusion affects the quality of water in wells, floods taro patches, gardens, and puts stress on plants/trees which are very important to the life and culture of an I-Kiribati.
For example, pandanus trees mean a lot to us; they are used for house construction, local medicine, food, traditional clothing, etc., but are dying from saltwater intrusion. Serious storm surges cause coastal erosion, floods grave yards, and in 2006, led to the collapse of the beautiful Dai Nippon causeway. This incident bore huge costs on the people of Kiribati. They had to build new homes with their own finance, and dig up their deceased relatives from their graves and bury them further inland.
While studying for my High School Diploma in Pohnpei in 2001, during my free time, I would hang out with my friends on a small islet name Dekehtik located on the barrier reef couple of miles away from the school. It was my favourite camping, picnicking and snorkeling spot. In 2005, I found to my surprise that Dekehtik Islet had split into two. I went to see for myself, with my own eyes, and there it was, badly destroyed by sea flooding. How sad to see this unexpected, sudden threat on the islanders and the landowners!
Coastal communities flooded during high tide
Visiting the community on the coast of Sokehs, Pohnpei, I learnt that many villagers had built their houses on raised foundations as the sea water was flooding their homes during high tide. They also built walls in front of their houses to prevent flooding during heavy rains. The villagers I spoke to mentioned noticing these changes in the last five years but not in the past.
The civil, economic, social and cultural rights that climate change abuses have strengthened my spirit to stand up for my nation, fight for our rights and to let many people know that we need to do something now to stop global warming.
Spreading the word
I participated at the Youth Summit during the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in 2005. I spoke at the conference plenary session which had more than 10, 000 people to deliver the youth’s message on “Our Climate, Our Challenge, Our Future” .
In 2006, I participated in a Climate Change tour across the United States. Through seminars, I encouraged university students to join the climate change movement. I also worked hard to convince leaders in the USA to improve US policy on clean energy to address climate change, ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and most importantly make decisions that will not affect my people in the Pacific Islands negatively.
Listen to an interview with Ben Namakin. [mp3, 6.67 MB]
Scientific reviewReviewed by: Professor Patrick Nunn, Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PACE-SD), University of the South Pacific, Fiji
Ben is a keen witness of what is happening throughout the Pacific Islands region. The sea level is undoubtedly rising, not continuously year after year, but in fits and starts. Extreme events such as storm surges, perhaps associated with tropical cyclones, often play an important role in the types of environmental changes that Ben describes.
Our island environments are fragile and – on a geological time span – they are also transient. Three thousand years ago, no habitable land existed in Kiribati (Banaba excepted) or Tuvalu but the sea-level fall created the foundations on which loosely-consolidated material could accumulate and form into islands. Today the sea-level is rising and so it is no surprise that the very same islands which were created by sea-level fall are now vanishing.
It is almost certain that the geography of many Pacific Island countries will be radically different at the end of the 21st century compared to today. Ben describes the threat that sea-level rise poses to the culture of I-Kiribati. There is no escaping the reality of this process so Pacific Islanders need to find ways to adapt to these changes.
Nunn, P.D. and Mimura, N. 2007. Promoting sustainability on vulnerable island coasts: a case study of the smaller Pacific Islands. In: McFadden, L., Nicholls, R.J. and Penning-Rowsell, E. (eds). Managing Coastal Vulnerability. Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 193-221.
» Additional peer review by Prof. John E. Hay, New Zealand [pdf]
All articles are subject to scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.