An ailing island in the sun

By Dev Nadkarni

As the jet turns in crisp blue equatorial skies on its approach to Kiribati’s capital, Tarawa, the vulnerability of the ribbon of atolls unfolds.

It is possible to watch the tide batter the fraying edges of the 30-odd km stretch of little atolls which make up Tarawa – never more than a couple of hundred metres wide.

The collapsing state of the remote Pacific nation is clear from a drive along the single road that crosses a string of causeways as it runs through the atoll: crumbling sea walls, coconut trees shorn of fronds and fruit because of encroaching salt water and long droughts, mounds of filth lining the coastline, overcrowding uncharacteristic of Pacific islands and poverty.

The alarm bells of climate change, sea level rise and global warming have pitchforked this 33-island nation that straddles the equator on to the front pages of the global media. Experts from all over the world have come in droves in search of answers to its impending submergence. Already two small islets have gone from the map.