How climate effects our health (and why Kiribati needs to act fast)

Two days ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) conference for Health and Climate was on.

That sentence either really excited you or you thought it was the most boring thing I’ve ever written.

But wait, wait, wait!  Please bear with me while I have a chat about why this conference is absolutely vital.  I promise you’ll at least learn something!

So how do health and climate effect each other?  In every way imaginable…

The biggest topic of the conference that concerned Kiribati is the focus on health systems in countries that are at a high risk of climate change.  Just two weeks ago Kiribati experienced a king tide of 2.9 meters and the with Tarawa sitting only just 3 metres above sea level, Kiribati is without a doubt at the forefront of rising sea levels.



Of course the threat of rising sea levels is a huge problem in itself but of course, there is a knock on effect to other escalating problems.

I have written before about the Kiribati people defecating on the beach which of course is disgusting and somewhat horrific when you’re having a nice old dip in the ocean with the occasional brown floatie.   The installation of toilets and the education on health and hygiene is slow in Kiribati.  It’s moving surely, but slowly.  So with open defecating on the beach and king tides encroaching on at least 75 percent of the houses on Kiribati??? Well you do the math.  Fingers crossed that’s pure dirt your two year old is playing with in the backyard of your kia kia (local house).

Another major health issue that increases with climate change is the spread of communicable diseases.  As the average of temperate rises, diseases not only increase in numbers but also prolong the amount of time it takes to regain health.  When fresh water supplies are infected, then comes cholera – a nasty old disease that just causes pretty severe vomiting and diarrheoa. At the moment over 130,000 people in the world are dying yearly from cholera and Kiribati has constant outbreaks of the disease.  It is the disease of the poor and those who live in slums – and with Kiribati population of 103,000 and growing, Kiribati will most likely be one of the first affected.  Malaria and dengue fever are also predicted to rise due to the temperature to increase the reproductive and biting rates of mosquitos.  And while it’s not a communicable disease, malnutrition will also increase due to lack of agricultural farming options in the searing heat.  See how this all is a giant snowball already?

So hopefully the WHO Health and Climate conference can produce a range of solutions that can help these major issues.  Kiribati needs to increase it’s own agricultural industry, needs to fund initiatives to encourage it’s people to move back to the outer islands and needs to provide adequate transportation between islands.  Kiribati absolutely needs help from major countries to fund initiatives that will tackle these problems but the I-Kiribati people need to come to the table.

It is the responsibility of every Kiribati descendant and citizen to encourage their family members on Kiribati to do something themselves.  Stop handing out cash and install a toilet for the family instead.  I know that’s easy to say and hard to actually do but we keep giving our families money for tobacco and sugar which worsens the problem.  Install a toilet, a water tank or get them to start a garden.  Kiribati citizens, it’s time to put your foot down and start being proactive about improving the health of your family.

The first step in development is always communication.  Fingers crossed the WHO Health and Climate conference opens up conversations that spark action.  Because we need to act fast.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. TDavies says:

    Marita, you are a great voice for Kiribati. We need people like you, young in age and yet so strongly vocal to the issues in Kiribati that sometimes are not talked about to the world. People like you who writes so passionately about these issues should be rewarded. Love your blog; informative, strong and loud.

    1. Standing on the shoulders of giants x

  2. HJ davies says:

    Hello Marita Thanks for the article. Just one correction, the tide was 2.9 metres high. On the 9th Sept next week they will have a 2.89 metre tide. Mum’s seawall will be tested by the sea again. Dad

    1. That’s been changed! Thanks for setting me straight Dad 🙂

  3. JohnE says:

    Hi Marita,

    Your comment on the brown floaties brings back many memories!

    I have a question for you…toilets were installed many years ago, are they still not being utilised? Have the generations since not been taught how to use them?

    I agree that aid needs to increase, but along with it I feel are a number of issues:

    1. The locals need to be willing to change where they have to in order to continue their survival. It can’t be seen as “the big western counties are coming in to save us and they’ll do all the work”.

    2. The aid needs to be a partnership with the locals so that they take ownership of it. The toilets are a great example of where this hasn’t happened (in my opinion).

    3. There needs to be some seriously good interaction between someone on the ground who can see the issues, interact with locals at their level and interact with government and aid organisations at their level in order to bring about the changes required, increase two-way communication and have a successful outcome. Want a new job Marita? 🙂


  4. Marianne Wheelaghan says:

    Another great blog! You do not shy away from highlighting unpleasant truths but are never judgmental and always positive. Not an easy thing to do. Like HJ Davis i think your blog is informative, strong and loud. Well done! Onwards!

    1. Thank you as always Marianne. Hopefully the blog keeps growing and I keep finding new ways to bring up issues in a respectful manner. Fingers crossed 🙂

  5. Emeretta says:

    Well said and how timely. Im going back with my dad for an indefinite period. Im apprehensive about employment but not as wary as what bugs are going to get under my skin! That pun is majorly intended!
    Marita keep up your elchance and skills with that mighty sword you wield – the pen and your chosen words.

  6. Emeretta says:

    Marita I wrote a real poetic comment about you wielding a mighty sword with your eloquence and chosen words…hit submit and it disappeared. LOL! My point is keep it up and right the wrongs our youth need to know.
    Im going back in November for an indefinite period…. Im sure there’s plenty to get under my skin – so sound off ….and lets get cracking on the little islands out in nowhere! xx

    1. Mauri Auntie!

      Haha, I did receive the first comment. Just comments usually sit hovering in the web until I get back onto my laptop and approve them. So it was just waiting there for me 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m still amazed at myself that after nearly five years of writing, I have never once thought about stopping – there is always more to write. I’d love to see you before you go. I’ll be in touch.

      Nei Marita

      P.S. I can’t even express in words how jealous I am of you to be going back in a couple of months!

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