"Before We Drown We May Die of Thirst"

"The island nation of Kiribati is one of the world's most vulnerable to rising sea levels. But residents may have to leave well before the ocean claims their homes."

"High tide left its mark on the houses like a dirty ring in a bathtub. The flood crept into the village of Teaoraereke under the cover of darkness, sending filthy seawater sloshing through pigsties and shallow graves, and into people's homes.

Teaoraereke residents scrambled to retreat, hoisting sleeping children, sodden bedding and other belongings to higher ground. But some stayed put, including Rerema Kauria, a 63-year-old grandmother who was marooned just inches above the floodwaters on a raised platform bed. She was still there by mid-morning as the water receded, her possessions tucked into the rafters of her traditional house of wooden poles and thatch. She knew that when high tide returned that afternoon it would bring more flooding, but she gave a roaring laugh when asked if she had considered leaving. “Where would I go?”

The uncertain future of people such as Kauria has drawn attention to a collection of atolls in the central Pacific Ocean that make up the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Keer-re-bahs). The average height of the country's 33 islands is little more than 2 metres above the ocean, which makes Kiribati acutely vulnerable to climate change. By the end of the century, melting polar ice and the thermal expansion of warmer seawater is expected to raise global ocean levels by perhaps 1 metre. That upsurge would, according to some predictions, displace many from Kiribati and millions of others around the world — and the water will keep going up."

Kenneth R. Weiss reports for Nature News October 28, 2015.

Source: Nature, 10/29/2015