As Rising Seas Swallow Kiribati, World Bank Throws a $20 Million Life Preserver

Threatening to swallow the country whole, climate change is taking its toll and the World Bank is giving a much-needed buffer.

Kiribati is literally drowning under rising seas.

But sustainability and environmental responsibility remain at the core of the emergency programs that the World Bank is funding with $20 million--programs that could find broader applications worldwide in the face of climate change. The money will help Kiribati, the tiny country of 100,000, conserve clean drinking water through better rainwater collection, new source cultivation, and coastal management, and help save vital roads and infrastructure from saltwater doom. (The Asian Development Bank and Kiribati's Ministry of Public Works and Utilities are administering the programs).

"This is a very real existential threat," said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Country Director, the Pacific. Like the nearby Carteret Islanders--who were the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Sun Come Up--Kiribati faces the threat of massive migration of its people to neighboring islands. “Despite its small population--the challenges loom large for Kiribati. The country and its people are at the coal-face of climate change and other natural disasters."

This isn't the first time the nation has dealt creatively and responsibly with environmental threats. Activists have focused on preserving Kiribati's abundant marine life by disincentivising fishing, for example. Instead of receiving money for permitting fishing access to outside parties, the country has found other partners that actually give them money to keep fishing crews away from the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), which is now the second largest marine protected area in the world.

With every threat Kiribati faces, Belhaj said, it's important to incorporate "institutional measures to ensure sustainability in the face of severe environmental impacts."

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[Top image via NASA; bottom image via Flickr user luigig]

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3 Comments

  • Chris Pala

    The Phoenix Islands are not the second-largest marine reserve in the world: only the waters 12 miles off seven of the eight islands are no-fishing, and 60 miles off the only inhabited one, Kanton. Nor is there any likelyhood that any kind of fishing restrictions will be put in place in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in the near future. It is only a paper park. it is dishonest to advertise it as the second largest marine reserve in the world.

  • KyleSandstrom

    Am I missing something here? How is it that the sea level has remained the same here in Los Angeles, but has somehow chosen to rise around the remote island of Kiribati? If I pour a bucket of water into one end of a pool, will the water only rise at that end and not the other? Reasoning like this is why people are rapidly abandoning their beliefs in the threat of climate change. I'm embarrassed for Ms. Nerenberg.

  • John Bailo

    ""This is a very real existential threat..."

    Existential threat means it hasn't happened yet.