A letter from the frontline of climate change — March 2015

Photo Credit: Iorita Toromon — “Our back yard under the ocean.”

The imminent danger Kiribati faces is difficult to comprehend for those who have never heard of the country but go there during a king tide, or prolonged drought, or a once in a lifetime rogue cyclone, and the difficulties it faces is obvious. Having a prolonged connection with this country has allowed me to witness and record the ecological impacts of a rapidly changing environment. With each return visit, I witness increasing amounts of changes. Some have predicted the nation would be in trouble in the not-so-distant future. The following letter to the world is an individual’s account of Tropical Cyclone Pamela from ground zero.

DAY 1: We first started experiencing strong winds in the morning around about 10:00 am. The winds ushered in the heavy rains. Throughout the day, the intensity of the winds waxed and waned. It was quite scary but fortunately, we did not experience anything serious at that point. Around 4:00 pm, the winds returned with greater force than before, the winds caused the waves to break angrily onto the shores destroying seawalls and homes along the coast. I was in my bedroom at that time with my niece feeling quite scared as the waves crashed onto our house. Not long after, we saw the water coming into our room from under the door. Water came into our room and we had to take everything off the floor and move them to our bed. Our bedroom quickly flooded with the ocean’s water, and we had to leave for another part of the house, which was not flooded. We could not sleep that night as the water from the crashing waves kept falling onto the corrugated tin roof. Between the waves, wind, and rain that the cyclone brought, we were very uncomfortable.

Photo Credit: Bibatur Rahman Ibrahim — Kiribati has just one road, causeway repair with sandbags.

DAY 2: The next morning, we woke up to find debris lying around everywhere. The roads were covered with sand, gravel, and rubbish of all kinds, which were washed ashore by the waves. Our well water was so salty we could not even use it for bathing. However, we made good use of the rain and collected as much as we could for drinking. We were depressed when seeing the state of our vegetable garden. It was flooded by seawater, which caused our vegetables to die. Today, more seawater came into the house and some parts of the house collapsed. We decided to abandon our house and move in with our extended family for safety. By this time, the winds grew stronger and more destruction to the island was occurring. There were very few public transports as owners didn’t want to risk operating in such dangerous conditions. They feared their cars would be damaged by the waves or by the roads themselves, which were crumbling with each new surge. The Dai Nippon causeway linking the two islands of Betio and South Tarawa was also severely damaged, and the government had to close it down. Workers from both islands were sent home before the closing was enforced. I went to stay with my cousin who lived close to my workplace while the rest of my family went to stay with family members in the next village over.

DAY 3: The wind is subsiding currently but still having a few showers and moderate wind. I stayed with my cousin, but my family is starting to repair damages caused to our seawall and our home. I am still staying with my cousin although the weather has been fine now for 2–3 days.
Now we are having good weather…no more threats from Pam and her counterparts the sea and rain. We are having our dear sunshine again with its warmth that embraces us each day. Although the weather is back to normal the aftermath of the cyclone and the waves and the rain still exist. People are now working on their seawalls repairing and strengthening them as well as rebuilding their houses that have collapsed during the cyclone. Road maintenance workers are also working hard to fix everything for local transports. We are praying that whatever repairs are being done now, will be able to withstand the next king tide which is in two weeks.

Photo Credit: Iorita Toromon — The barren land after constant inundation exemplifies the long-lasting impacts of saltwater intrusion.

Regarding help in our area, there is no outside help either from government and non-government organizations or church groups. Families rebuild their lives and homes with family members only.

The main needs in our community are:

1. Materials that would help in the construction of stronger seawalls, and construction experts.

2. Water tanks for each household for water storage so that in these kinds of situations, when their wells become salty, they still have enough water for their families.

3. Machines that can convert seawater to freshwater for each community or village so that people can still have water when wells become ruined by the rising sea or during long periods of drought.

Iorita Neemia Toromon

Climate activist, author, and visiting professor at the University of Cincinnati mike-roman.com

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