Kiribati relocating to Fiji?



I’ve discovered that the more I write, the more I love it.  To be honest, I’ve never considered myself much of a writer but I really enjoy it.  I find that it allows me to articulate my own thoughts on things about Kiribati.  Having said that, I haven’t been able to have a chance to sit down and write for a month or so.  I’ve started countless amounts of posts but I’ve struggled to find the time to finish them! Apologies, what a pathetic excuse.

Of late, Kiribati has been in the news quite a lot.  Well more than usual anyway.  With Anote Tong being voted in for his third and final term as President of Kiribati, he has announced that the new cabinet have agreed to try and buy land in Fiji.  This is to prepare for the future should Kiribati eventually have to be evacuated entirely due to rising waters.

Yeah, pretty crazy hey?  Now I’m not really too sure on how it would legally work and since this is new territory for Kiribati and Fiji it would obviously have to be figured out.  So if Kiribati buy land, would Kiribati citizens need a visa to live there? Would babies that are born there be eligible for Fijian citizenship?  This block of land is approx 6,000 acres and is currently owned by a church group.  This land is on the main island of Fiji not a separate island all together so to be honest I kind of find it a bit unsettling.  It’s for sale for $9.6 million and to be honest I really doubt Kiribati even has that amount of money to spare.   On average, each Kiribati person has approx $1,600 and a shitload of coconuts to their name.  It really is new ground but the reality is, is that sea levels are rising and fertile land on Kiribati is descreasing so Kiribati need to think of options.

I have read some really ridiculous reports of people saying that the islands are actually expanding, that atolls are always changing, that these things ‘happen all the time’.  I find it so frustrating to read these.  Yes may be they have expanded in terms of sand bars rising to cover more ground but the actual fertile land that is habitable  is shrinking.  How do I know? As most of you know, I’m not an expert on these things.  All I’m going on is what I have seen with my own eyes.  The water has risen.  More people are inhabiting the main island for supplies while the Tarawa struggles to provide for the amount of families on the island.  More and more babies are being born, fresh water in the wells are getting contaminated with salt water, the sun is getting hotter (or ‘closer’ as my uncle would say), disputes on land ownership are increasing and the land is struggling to provide for all the people on the islands – not just Tarawa but all the outer islands.

The more people there are on the island means that there is less land to grow vegetables, to keep pigs and chickens, to have fresh water wells to provide the amount of people in the area.  At the moment Kiribati is hurtling towards problems that are growing bigger by the day.

Here is a video that I took of my cousins playing at our house on Tarawa.  Please excuse my horrendous grasp on the language.  it goes for a while so if you don’t want to watch all of it, I encourage you to skip through a watch the level of water.  This is what I see. Although I understand we need them, I’m not talking about scientific reports, statistics, climate change supporters or deniers right now.  This is just what I see when I visit my family.   There are people out there trying to deny that water isn’t rising but as you can only imagine that the water never used to be as high as what it is in the video.

Now compare that footage to this photo of my Grandparents with my Auntie, sister and myself in 1985.  This is the exact same spot.  There is no sea wall nor was there a need for it.  There is no denying it.  The landscape has definitely changed.

So maybe buying land from Fiji is the answer.  I’m don’t know.  I just know that Kiribati is an incredibly poor country and that this land purchase would certainly increase their financial problems.  It would also create problems in terms of land ownership on Fiji and Kiribati.  I’m assuming that both parliaments are trying to figure out whether this would be possible.  Pacific Islanders do have a history of moving around island to island, I suppose I’m just concerned with the all the red tape.  How much in debt will Kiribati be?  How will Kiribati govern their people if their living in Fiji on Kiribati land?

I have so many questions I want to be answered but at the moment it’s just a waiting game.  Fiji have to approve Kiribati’s proposal to buy the land from them to start off with.  If this comes through I suppose that’s when a lot of these questions can be answered.  In the meantime, I’ll keep going through my emails, chatting to people who know more than me, reading articles.

Thanks for reading.  I’d love to hear any suggestions for topics on future posts.

Ko raba.

Marita

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12 thoughts on “Kiribati relocating to Fiji?

  1. Marita,

    It’s a rather sad indictment of the state of our planet that Kiribati is even thinking about such a move.

    There are one or two precedents I can think of elsewhere in the Pacific where communities have had to move because of global warming-induced sea level rise: the Carteret Islands in PNG and the Reef Islands here in Vanuatu.

    There are also numerous examples of whole communities having to shift because of other environmental disturbances: one example is the village I live in, Mele Maat, was moved from Ambrym island in the 1950s following a volcanic eruption there, to its current location on Efate island close to Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila.

    This particular move took place during colonial times, so land ownership issues were conveniently brushed aside by the colonial powers France and Great Britain, which of course would not be the case today. I shudder to think what sort of governance issues such a move might produce, let alone the psychological impact on those making the move.
    But perhaps Kiribati can look to its neighbours (and even further afield) for lessons on how to best manage such a transition.

    Marita, you may also be interested in a report I helped produce for UNDP – it contains a lot of useful economic and demographic data about Kiribati. There’s also a chapter on human development that addresses climate change issues. The lInk is http://cl.ly/2T1D3g1s1L2x1E401w35.

    Regards,
    Nick

  2. Hi Marita (and Nick!),
    another interseting post from you about Kiribati and South Tarawa. I think, but am not sure, that the Kiribati people on Banaba moved to the Fijian island of Rabi in the 1950s because of a lack of decent cultivated land and issues to do with a fresh water supply (the island was harvested for guanao, not unlike Nauru). And while Rabi is part of Fiji, the island is run by an island council which is answerable to the Kiribati government ( I think!). It’d be interesteing to ask the people there how the move affected them. I assume the Kiribati government are viewing the move as a success, which is why they are considering it again?! I know, certainly, forcibly expelling people from their home can be devastating and the UN has made many studies on the consequences of not dealing with the long term physical and emotional impact of displacing people from their homes. One would like to think, that if a move has to occur, that in the new millenium, it could be done in consultation with the people of Kiribati so as to minimnise the negative impact of losing one’s home and birthplace.
    Albert Schweitzer said in his speech when he acceted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954:

    “The most offensive infringement of the right based on historical evolution and of any right generally is to deprive populations of their right to occupy the country where they live by forcing them to settle elsewhere.”

    I believe he was referring to the millions of displaced people after the second world war in this speech, but what he says is still valid : forcing people to leave their homes, for whatever reasons, and settle elsewhere is an offensive infringement of our human rights and any such move deserves serious consideration.

    Nick, what did/do your relatives think now about having been made to move to Efate Island? Do you have any thoughts about the move?

    Cheers :o)

    Marianne

    1. I’m not related to the people from this village; I’m from Australia, originally.

      But I know that even after 60 years, issues remain: they were settled by a French plantation owner on another group’s customary land, which at the time was owned by the planter. Despite all sorts of ceremonies since Vanuatu’s independence to legitimise their resettlement, there is still a lingering resentment of their presence by some members of the other group.

      Finding a piece of land to resettle seems to be the easiest part. How a resettled community fits in with its new neighbours, how it maintains the things that give its members their self-esteem, like livelihoods, community infrastructure, shared identity — this is hard part.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. Nick I’m very interested in your report so when I get a chance, I will have a thorough read!

    Parliament are currently discussing this land purchase and to be honest I think it would be legally very difficult to go ahead with it. I don’t know the details of the Rabi move but I do know that there are huge issues there in regards to nationality, land ownership and who ‘belongs’ there.

    In terms of relocation and how islanders will be affected by it, it might be worth looking at how they move between islands with Kiribati. Each island has their own characteristics, traits and even physical traits. Now that there is more movement between each island traditional culture is slowly declining. This is evident on South Tarawa in comparison to the smaller outer islands. Of course this would happen over time but to move people to outside of Kiribati – well I find it upsetting at the least. But then again, the waters are rising so they do need to think of their future. I just don’t think buying land on the main island of Fiji is the right way to go about it. Nick you’re right – culture, community infrastructure, identity, culture and self esteem will suffer. These are all the things that make up all countries, nationalities, ethnicities. If these are lost, what is left? Look at Australian Aboriginals, Palestinians, Burmese. The threat of culture and national identity is a bigger loss than land.

  4. Marita,
    I hear from a well-placed source in Fiji that the 2,250ha on Vanua Levu that the Kiribati Govt, is planning to acquire is not intended for residential use. Apparently it is commercial forestry land with proven mineral deposits beneath it. The intention seems to be that this piece of land will be exploited to provide an ongoing income for I-Kiribati.

    Which begs the question, if people aren’t planning to relocate to this piece of land, then where are they planning to go? Build houses on stilts? Suva? Brisbane? Auckland?

    And what does this mean for the identity issues we have been discussing here?

  5. your article was really helpful. this is right that some of the people are saying that the land of Kiribati is expanding. but still there are many evidences I found on internet that there is a continuous sea level rise. As I am from Pakistan and student of architecture. Cant visit kiribati due to some problems. but for thesis I have chosen this topic that the islands likes yours are sinking and some of them have drowned as well like holland island. what i ve relaized is that buying land from other countries is not a best solution because in near future this problem gonna worse for all the world. so we should start thinking of other solutions before its too late

    what I have come up with the soultion to this problem is build a new town. town on water. which is self sufficient. that way you will not have to beg other countires for help. plus it will attract tourism. and this will be the model for the future when the global warming becomes a global issue. they may adapt the same solution.

    the idea is a town which can float over water and sustains itself.

    1. Hi Ayesha, it sounds interesting although I can understand that it would be hard trying to do a thesis on this subject without being in Kiribati or having visited. The problem with Kiribati is that their resources are very limited so using materials to build a town on water would most have to be imported in and this would lead to the issue of whether it actually would be sustainable in the long term. What can I help you with?

  6. thank you so much for your reply. first can you please give me your e mail add. so I can stay in touch with you for my thesis project.
    yes it is true that its very difficult to do thesis when you cannot do a site visit but the problem is that the more I am studying about Kiribati people and the problems they are facing. The more I am getting attach to it. its hard to leave it now.
    I hope I can do something for you people. when I think how would it be like if I was living with my family under such circumstances.
    By the way I was studying on Fiji where your government is trying to buy land. I do not want to scare you but the sea level rising in Fiji is also getting obvious. The situation is way better than what it is in Kiribati but do you think shifting to Fiji is a long term solution. Because its going to sink not now but certainly in future. so I think buying land which is ultimately going to sink is a stupidity.

    One more thing I want to ask if you people settle to Fiji, will you guys have your own nationality or you will be called Fijian?

    Thank you, waiting for your reply.

  7. I work with things such as this out here in Rennes, France.
    Genuinely doing what you love and writing about it in such a
    quality way is a great gift. Your insightful post possesses the ideal combo of enthusiasm and well-written, interesting information that I’ve grown to love and admire.

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