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Sink or swim: Kiribati looks to adapt in the face of changing climate

Climate change is slowly sinking the island of Kiribati. But the country is looking at taking a new approach to adaptation efforts to turn back the tide. 

“At the moment, there [is[ some information that Kiribati will be underwater due to climate change or maybe not underwater but with the term that the island will not be adaptable for living or supporting the people,” said Kiribati meteorologist, Ueneta Tooma,

Improving the collection of data to better anticipate precisely how climate change will effect the island is a top priority, said Mr. Toomua who was in Samoa this week for the 5th Meeting of the Pacific Meteorological Council

”There are few adaptation works being undertaken but I think the government is looking for more financial support," he said. 

"We’re trying our best to improve our weather and climate monitoring as well as improving our early warning system because we see that once people are able to adapt in a short term period like weather events, then I think they might able to adapt in a much longer term."

A recurring theme at the Pacific Meteorological Council Meeting is trying to communicate science in ways that members of the general public can understand. 

“It’s very important for our people to understand science so that when they understand, they can be able to come up with a very appropriate adaptation strategy,” he said.

From the meteorological service's point of view more detailed information on sea level rises needs to be considered because currently there monitoring stations in the region are limited. 

Kiribati, like other countries in the region, is seeing a lot of experience of more frequent and extreme weather events as well as coastal inundations, Mr. Tooma said. 

One priority from the council meeting is trying to improve weather forecasting in the short-term. 

“Because we see from our perspective that once we prove the early warning system in short term period including weather events that will help people to prepare themselves to adapt in a much longer term period or more related to climate change,” Mr. Tooma said.

One of the major impacts seen nowadays in Kiribati is on its agriculture. 

Most of the low-level food crops are being heavily impacted by the extreme weather events and coastal inundations, which Mr. Tooma said, is leading to an increasing reliance on imported food. 

“Those are the key challenges we’re facing at the moment but coming from a low atoll island I think coping with a more frequent coastal inundation and flooding from the marine related events is a more challenging issue,” he added.

“I think we have to improve our monitoring as well as early warning system on those areas. I think the conference is quite good and went really well and it has enabled MET Services to learn from each other and see what are the areas that have already been improved.”

Coastal erosion is another common impact of climate change impact and one that Mr. Tooma said is not only borne by Kiribati alone. 

“Driving along the coastal areas here in Samoa, I can see some areas that are quite significantly eroded as well,” Mr. Tooma said.

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