Rich people like to buy property on tropical islands for privacy on vacation. For the people of the nation Kiribati, whose government recently announced that it purchased land on a Fiji island more than 1,200 miles away, the reasons are more dire. The property is an escape plan.
Kiribati is a tiny island country with a population of 100,000 people in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It faces an existential crisis: Within a few decades, as sea levels rise due to global warming, most of its land will be gone. The costs of protecting the island are high, especially in a poor nation with a small GDP. The $8.77 million land purchase from the Church of England is a Plan B for relocation.
Kiribati is on the front lines, but according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming will create many more refugees and migrants over the next century. Natural disasters like typhoons will get more destructive, sea-levels will rise, droughts will whither crops, and all of these destabilizing changes are certain to fuel political conflict, too. For years, Kiribati and other small island nations have pleaded with world’s superpowers to take action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and compensate nations that will experience its impacts the worst.
Other island nations, such as the Maldives, have considered similar land purchases, but Kirbati is the first to go through with it, according to the Guardian.
“Among the small islands, Kiribati is the country that has done most to anticipate its population’s future needs,” says François Gemenne, a specialist on migrations at Versailles-Saint Quentin University, France. “The government has launched the ‘migration with dignity’ policy to allow people to apply for jobs on offer in neighbouring countries such as New Zealand. The aim is to avoid one day having to cope with a humanitarian evacuation.”
While it’s not clear when such relocations would happen, the land will be there when needed and for now it will be used for agricultural and fish-farming projects. Already, the nation is experience food challenges as salt water is contaminating local groundwater sources. “We would hope not to put everyone on [this] one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” Kiribati President Anote Tong told the Associated Press.