No simple solution of Kiribati overcrowding - academic | Pacific Beat

No simple solution of Kiribati overcrowding - academic

No simple solution of Kiribati overcrowding - academic

Updated 29 February 2012, 7:25 AEDT

Kiribati's caretaker President, Anote Tong says Tarawa is so overpopulated that the only solution may be for people to return to the outer islands.

Of major concern is water supply with more fresh water is being used on the main island than is being replenished by rain.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker:Professor Helen Ware, University of New England

WARE: I think the problem is less a disaster to say the one or two night clubs and the fact that almost inevitably the major education, health and indeed employment opportunities of the government are all on the Tarawa and so it's understandable that people will move to the main islands, the difficulty given the very spread out scattered nature of the island of Kiribati is it's very hard to move development onto the outer islands and therefore understandably people do naturally gravitate to Tarawa.

COUTTS: Well, what can be done then if this is going to be a continuing trend where people get caught up in this urban drift and the capitals having more squatter settlements and a lot more people than they can handle?

WARE: Well, I think one obviously needs to look to the maximum at we're always hearing about, the wonders of what digital technology can deliver these days, are there ways in which that can possibly used to give what industry sort of seaweed growing, whatever can be introduced on the outer islands to give people some sources of cash income to give them some connection to the broader world. It's a matter of seeing what technology can do, but I think even granted that, it's very difficult to see that that's going to have a major impact, then you end up at the other side of the equation, people moving away from Tarawa, at least during their employed lives. People obviously, men go out on joining other people's marine fleets and so on as sailors. The Kiribati government which is quite far sighted, it's a good government for thinking ahead, which is always a good thing have been interested in the question, for example, of training women as nursing aids, so that they have opportunity to go and work overseas. So I think that both ends of the spectrum are possible, but it certainly is a very dire situation. There are parts of Tarawa are more densely populated than Singapore, which is almost inconceivable, given that Singapore has high rises and Tarawa certainly doesn't.

COUTTS: Well, what's the solution then, they're training people to leave the island because that would be a temporary measure, because presumably one day they'd return home and the other was moving whole populations offshore and homes elsewhere. What is your solution to the problem, because drought and climate change are going to continue?

WARE: Well, I don't think training people to work overseas is that temporary a solution. I mean if people spend their working life. I think if they retire back to Tarawa at the end, that is going to be a less of a positive or indeed they might at that point choose to retire the desires of the young are probably rather different from the desires of those who have reached retirement stage. Admittedly that comes quite young in Kiribati, but so that it's going to be not one thing or solution. It's going to be a range of different solutions and obviously everybody's going to be looking at all the possible technologies for.

COUTTS: Well, what are some of the solutions that you would recommend?

WARE: I do really think given the way the islands are, more development of Christmas Island is obviously one of the priorities, but also I would support training people to the maximum both to be able to use modern technology as far as possible. Also something Kiribati has to look at is the question of allowing to the maximum people not to have more children than they want to do. There are obviously limits to that, but it isn't an eco-system that can support unlimited growth of population, so that's yet another issue.
And we haven't even factored into that of course, the question of sea level rise. It may reach a point where I mean I remember years ago going for picnics on islands that are now underwater in Kiribati, so there may not be a great deal of choice, so that the more that people can have high levels of education, the more flexible, the more options they're going to have down the track.

COUTTS: So they'll be a loss of language and culture if they dispersed over the Pacific if they have to resettle or forced resettlement?

WARE: Well, that depends how far people resettle as groups. I mean obviously the survival of the whole culture that survives for many others. It would be terribly sad if that went. But if people move as groups, then they're able to large attempt ? to take their culture with them. So that would be an important factor. But yes, I am seeing what can be done to develop those islands that would be most unaffected by sea level rise.

COUTTS: Should there a category of environmental refugees?

WARE: I think in real terms, because refugee has such a special useage in terms of political persecution and the like, I think there should be a new category not refugees, but definitely a new category of people forcibly moved by climate change.

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