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Prepared Remarks by Mr. Michael Ravell Walsh
Honorary Consul at London
Republic of Kiribati
Before the Spring Ambassador Speaking Series
Pacific Islands Society at SOAS
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
Kiribati was long viewed by the metropolitan powers as a country which would never be viable, on size, security and economic grounds. Since Independence in 1979, however, it has been regarded as a success story in terms of Governance, economic management, and democracy. Regional and international alliances have facilitated it to deal with traditional security concerns, and to increase the value of its EEZ. However, Kiribati is in the front line of climate change. This paper considers what is, and what else could be, done to counter climate changes, but despite efforts to mitigate these, and to adapt to their impact, relocation of its people may be the only long term option, as its physical fabric literally becomes uninhabitable. The paper concludes by raising some of the security and other issues that such a move would entail.
Some of you may be familiar with a poem, ‘The Yarn of the Nancy Bell’, by W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan, rather than Gilbert and Ellice, fame). The chorus runs:
“Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain’s gig.”
As Honorary Consul in the UK for Kiribati, I sometimes feel rather like this. Kiribati has only one overseas diplomatic mission (in Fiji), and our little band of Honorary Consuls round the world do the job as best we can for everywhere else, on a part time, unpaid basis. In the nearly 20 years that I have been doing this in the UK, I have kept a list of all my official functions – as evidenced by the titles under which people write to me. This list now numbers well over 50, and ranges from His Excellency the Ambassador, via various specialist Counsellors, down to lesser functionaries such as the Car Pool Administrator.
I thus feel a bit of a fraud addressing a group of security experts in an Ambassador speaking series, since I am neither of these. Nor, obviously, am I originally from Kiribati. What I have been is associated with Kiribati and its leaders for more than 40 years, and I am honoured, on behalf of the Government of Kiribati, speak tonight.
Addressing a Pacific Islands Society, I don’t have to explain (as I usually have to do) that Kiribati is an independent state in the Pacific. You may even know that its name is pronounced Key-ree-bass (with the ‘ti’ as in nation or station), which is as close as you can get to its colonial name, ‘Gilbert’, in its own language.
But here is some necessary (although necessarily simplified) history and background facts, which form the backdrop to its security issues.
Kiribati covers an area of the world equivalent to London to Moscow to Ankara to Madrid. It is the only country in the world with a presence in all four hemispheres, North and South of the Equator and East and West of the Meridian. Until the mid-1990s, one half of the country was officially a day ahead of the other, since the Date Line then intervened between them.
All of Kiribati is coastal; you cannot anywhere in the country be physically much more than a quarter of a mile from the sea. It has 33 islands, in three archipelagos, with a total land area about the same as the Isle of Wight. With the exception of Banaba, of which more later, the highest point above sea level is 10 feet.
We do, by contrast, have the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world.
The people who we now know as I Kiribati originally inhabited the Gilbert Islands archipelago and Banaba, and called them Tungaru. They had arrived there at some disputed time, between 3000 b.c. and 1300 c.e. Invasions by Samoans, Tongans and Fijians introduced some Polynesian and Melanesian elements to the basic Micronesian culture, but extensive intermarriage produced a homogenous population, with only relatively minor variations in dialect and governance arrangements across the 17 islands.
When Europeans arrived in the 1840s, they found a sophisticated but of course stone age society, governed communally through the old men meeting in large maneabas, representing family groups; and a nation with a strong sense of individual equality and self-worth – together with a long tradition that decisions should be taken by consensus. These traits are still fundamental to I Kiribati society today.
The Modern Country
Kiribati should have been a German colony. However, when Bismarck and Disraeli divided their spheres of influence at the Treaty of Berlin in 1884 – with all of Micronesia supposedly going to Germany – the Gilberts were accidentally placed on the British side of the line. The British did nothing to enforce their territorial claims until pressurised to do so by the Germans, and in 1892 HMS Royalist was sent by the British Foreign Office to declare a Protectorate. However our Foreign Office did not consult the Treasury beforehand. There is a wonderful file in Kew, with the Treasury vociferously objecting to the acquisition of these ‘worthless islands’ and only very reluctantly accepting them in the end, with the proviso that they ‘should never cost Her Majesty’s Government one penny’.
I tell this story only because those two statements pretty much sum up HMG’s policy during the period when Britain ruled, from 1892 until 1979.
Part of the cost minimisation policy was implemented by combining their administration with that of the Ellice Group several hundred miles to the south, and that of Banaba, which was separately annexed by Britain in 1900. Thus was created the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (GEIC). Again for administrative convenience, the Phoenix Group and the Southern Line Islands (not part of Tungaru) were also incorporated into the Colony. Many of these were also claimed by the USA, but the claims were given up in the Treaty of Tarawa, signed in 1980.
Banaba was annexed because it had been discovered that that island, at any rate, was not worthless. With its neighbour Nauru (which had correctly been put on the ‘German’ side of the Pacific), it was packed with valuable phosphate. I do not have time to tell the nasty story of the exploitation of Banaba and the Banabans, for the benefit of Australian and New Zealand agriculture, and indirectly cheap food for the UK; but suffice it to say that when I drew up the first ever set of National Accounts for the GEIC in the mid 1970s, phosphate mining accounted for some 52% of GDP (1974). As Kiribati Independence was then approaching, we were able to up the price of our phosphate to world levels and thus to invest substantial amounts in the hitherto rather moribund Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund – in effect a much needed Sovereign Wealth Fund – that a far sighted Colonial Official had instituted as long ago as 1956.
As Independence approached, the Ellice people had become worried that they would be swamped by the more numerous Gilbertese, and in 1975 it was agreed that they would separate, as Tuvalu.
The protracted bid by the residents of Banaba Island in the 1970s to secede and have their island placed under the protection of Fiji has been an even more emotional issue. After Banaba was devastated by the phosphate mining, the vast majority of Banabans were persuaded to move to the island of Rabi in the Fiji Islands, in the 1940s; they now number some 5,000 and have full Fijian citizenship.
At Independence, the Kiribati government responded by including several special provisions in the Constitution, such as the designation of a Banaban seat in the legislature, and the return of land previously acquired by the government for phosphate mining. Only about 300 people remain on Banaba. Despite being part of Kiribati, Banaba’s municipal administration is by the Rabi Council of Leaders and Elders, which is based on Rabi. This has remained a background, but currently low-key, security issue as Kiribati emerged in 1979 as an independent nation with the shape it has today.
Well into the 1970s, there was a widely held view that Kiribati could never survive as an independent country – due to its size, dispersion, and lack of resources other than the phosphate, finally mined out in the very year of Independence. Successive Development Plans had tried (and failed) to come up with a ‘big idea’ to replace the mining income, and government revenue from it.
Fast forwarding the 33 years from Independence in 1979 to today, I think it is fair to say that they have done a lot better than most outside observers had expected, not least because of the four able and far-seeing Presidents we have had. Fortunately these leaders did not share the gloomy assessments of the outside observers.
The upsides are:
- Kiribati democracy has proved resilient, with sitting Governments losing elections on two occasions
- There has been no serious internal unrest
- Kiribati is still a middle income country, despite losing more than half of its national income just before Independence
- This has been achieved through a mix of measures, not through a ‘big idea’
- The Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund has balanced the budget, and its capital has been carefully preserved, although there has recently been a worrying drop in its size because of the global downturn and banking crisis
- Fishing license fees and remittances provide key sources of income.
However, there are also a number of downsides:
- The population has more than doubled (to about 100,000) since Independence. Virtually all of the increase in population has moreover been concentrated in the capital, South Tarawa, which as a result is grossly overcrowded and polluted
- Urban poverty has emerged, and a generation has grown up without ‘subsistence’ skills
- The production and export bases are narrow, limited to subsistence farming and fishing on ‘outer’ islands, and copra, seaweed and fishing exports
- There is a high import dependence, and the economy is very vulnerable to swings in commodity prices and imported inflation
- Kiribati relies heavily on foreign aid to finance the resulting structural trade deficit and to provide infrastructure of all kinds
- Corruption, though not pervasive, has crept into what was 40 years ago possibly the most honest society in the world
- The public sector still unhealthily dominates the economy (as it did in colonial days).
Security from a Traditional Perspective
I strongly agree with the wise remarks made by the High Commissioner for Fiji in his address to you last week, that:
“If I were to ask the room this evening to suggest 3 issues that you would consider to be significant threats to security in the Pacific Islands, it is likely that your collective list would be dominated by traditional security issues, such as superpower rivalry, terrorism, people smuggling, and drug trafficking … Were I at the same time to ask a group of Pacific Islanders which three threats to security are most pressing, I am sure that their answers would differ to yours.”
The issue of security, which was then defined only in military terms, dominated thinking in the cold war era, and during the early days of decolonisation – with New Zealand then often held out as the ‘minimum’ size of state that should be considered viable. This would have ruled out statehood for all the Pacific island countries. By the time most of them were along the path to independence, however, the big powers had pretty much accepted the concept of micro-states, and had accepted that they would have to learn to live with them, and evolve mechanisms to do so. Indeed Nauru – the smallest of all the independent countries in the region – was one of the first Pacific states to become independent, in 1968.
Kiribati came to independence with no regular military forces; their establishment is very specifically prevented by the constitution. The only state disciplined force in Kiribati is a national police force, which also runs prisons and a coast guard. (This is unfortunate for one of my correspondents, an enterprising Texan who regularly writes to the Consulate’s ‘Air Attaché’, wishing to sell used helicopter parts to the Kiribati Air Force).
That is not to say that traditional types of security threat can be wholly discounted.
We have, inevitably, had the odd run in with the ‘bad guys’. Only last week, for example, the President publicly apologised for the sale of passports to what turned out to have been North Korean agents, under a revenue raising sale-of-passports programme developed in the 1990s. The current Government put a stop to the programme in 2003.
As the President explained:
“We cancelled that programme because it was something that was not very popular: we did not believe it was the right thing to be done. But I think that angle with the involvement of North Koreans and particularly with potential terrorist connections was never something we intended to happen, nor did we expect it would happen.”
‘Covering the angles’ is a recurring problem if you are a micro-state, purely because of lack of resources and intelligence ‘bandwidth’. I will return to this in my concluding remarks.
However, on the broader ‘traditional’ security front, regional arrangements and generous international assistance, governmental, inter-governmental and increasingly non-governmental, have proved to be generally effective in meeting them.
I focus on a couple of examples:
- The regional security arrangements put in place by the Pacific Islands Forum
- The continuing development of co-operation on fisheries protection.
The regional security framework by the Pacific Islands Forum is designed to ensure the cooperation of national law enforcement authorities with each other, and to ensure a standard regional approach to security activities. The 2000 Biketawa Declaration, one of four key instruments governing regional security arrangements, relates to regional crisis management and conflict resolution initiatives, is indeed named after the islet on Tarawa Atoll where it was signed; and we have contributed a small number of police to RAMSI, which has been a notable success for regional management of internal disturbances.
There is additionally an Australia-Kiribati Security Partnership, signed at the 2010 Pacific Islands Forum in Port Vila, Vanuatu, which provides for security cooperation between the two countries.
Australia’s Defence Cooperation Programme in particular provides training and other support to the Police Maritime Unit of the Kiribati Police Service for its operation of the patrol boat, the RKS Teanoai. Two Royal Australian Navy personnel are based permanently in Tarawa. The United States and Kiribati have also signed a cooperative maritime enforcement agreement, or ‘ship rider agreement,’ allowing I Kiribati law enforcement officers to embark on U.S. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft to patrol the waters.
This supports the second focus of ‘traditional’ security, the exclusive economic zones belonging to the islands, and most specifically, the fish that they contain. Aided by technology, security responses have evolved considerably since the days of not so many years ago, when the captain of a fisheries vessel apprehended in territorial waters promptly offered to buy – as a valuable antique – the 303 rifle with which he had been arrested. (The 303 rifle entered the service of the British army in the 1880s).
Although the central pacific contains some 25% of the world’s skipjack tuna, fees received by Kiribati and other Pacific Islands are not large relative to the value of fish catches. The ratio of the fees to fishing entities’ revenues is reported to be less than 5%, with an even smaller proportion of the eventual value of the catch remaining in the region. Fishing license fees are nonetheless a key income source for the Kiribati Government. Fishing license fees are, at more than 30% of domestically generated revenue (i.e. excluding aid receipts) and around 20% of GDP, among the highest in Pacific Island countries.
Kiribati is party to The Nauru Agreement, the subregional agreement on terms and conditions for tuna purse seine fishing licences in the region (an OPEC for skipjack, according to its detractors). Under this agreement the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency has brought together eight Pacific Island countries sustainably to manage tuna. It has has introduced several innovative conservation and management measures such as the Vessel Day Scheme (a system whereby a set number of fishing days will be sold and traded to the highest bidding fishing companies), closure of high seas areas to fishing, and control of Fish Aggregating Devices (or ‘FADs’, which are human-made devices to attract schools of fish that often result in high juvenile fish catches).
A major contribution has been made by Kiribati through the equally creative policy of dis-incentivising fishing, on analogous lines to schemes for rain forests. Instead of receiving money for permitting fishing access to outside parties, the country has found other partners who pay to keep fishing crews away from the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the second largest marine protected area in the world. With an area of more than 150,000 sq. miles (several hundred times our land area of 280 square miles) it is the largest marine protected area in the Pacific Ocean and the largest marine conservation effort of its kind by a least developed country.
International co-operation on EEZs continues. Last year, seven small island states sharing maritime boundaries signed bilateral treaty agreements at the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum in the Cook Islands. The signing included seven bilateral and one trilateral agreement, this being between Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru.
There is every sign that such continuing co-operation will raise the value of their marine resources to participating countries.
Security from a Non-traditional Perspective
I want now to turn to the main topic of this evening, the impact of non-traditional issues – caused by climate change – on the security of Kiribati and its people.
Although a lot of attention has been given to rising sea levels (it is estimated that the sea level around Kiribati has been rising by an average of 3.7 millimetres a year since 1992), this only tells part of the story.
The land in Kiribati is not so much already being drastically eroded, but that the coral lenses are becoming more and more saline, and there is more temporary damage from ‘king’ tides. It is possible that global warming will ultimately result in storm waves breaching the outer reefs, which will result in all the land very rapidly washing away. However, the science about this is disputed by some, whereas the immediate impact of current man-made change on the water table and shoreline is irrefutable to all but the most determined of climate change deniers.
The atolls of Kiribati are experiencing increased wave heights and frequency, and this is placing increased pressure on the shoreline and seawalls. Storm surges occur far more often than in the past. During recent king tides many people were affected by waves that reached nearly 3 metres, devastating some villages, sweeping farmland out to sea, and contaminating fresh water wells. These high waves break over coastal land and seawalls and cause flooding and destruction to settled areas and fruit trees. Tebunginako village in Abaiang – which has had to be moved – provides an example.
Cyclones and hurricanes occur more frequently in the ocean area surrounding Kiribati and these also generate waves that damage the atolls. For example, in 1997 Kiritimati Island was devastated by an El Niño event that brought heavy rainfall and flooding, resulting in a half-metre rise in sea level. Roughly 40% of the island’s coral died and the island’s 14 million birds, among the world’s richest bird population, left.
By contrast, other parts of Kiribati have suffered from long periods of drought, an endangered supply of fresh water, and bleaching of the coral reefs that protect the islands. (Although a recent study concluded that the unique combination of certain currents and tides around Kiribati may ultimately provide a refuge for corals to evolve in order to cope with rising sea temperatures, while they will be wiped out virtually everywhere else in the world).
The atolls of Kiribati have always had limited ground water lenses. Coral limestone is porous and allows seawater to flow through it. The water table oscillates on a daily basis with the tides, and in the long term with the mean sea level. Potable ground water in wells has traditionally supplied enough water for the population, most of the time, but this supply has increasingly been failing as a direct result of the climate changes I have mentioned. As sea levels have risen, many wells have become contaminated with salt water and can no longer be used. The water supply in Kiribati already falls well short of the recommended WHO standard of 50 litres per person per day.
The security challenges arising directly from climate change can be summarised as:
- The need for physical protection of the shoreline
- Severe restrictions on the availability of fresh water (at an affordable price)
- Food security
- Health issues, such as increased incident of water-borne diseases and of dengue fever , as well as the effects of too much salt on heart disease
- The very habitability of the atolls, and the continuing survival of Kiribati as a nation, if these other issues cannot be overcome in time.
These are just as fundamental to people’s security as are the threat of foreign invasion, or of a terrorist attack. Nor would Kiribati at its current stage of development be much disabled by cyber war or internet fraud, important though those are to us of the developed world.
The Kiribati Adaptation Programme (KAP) was thus started in 2003, and has been implemented in three phases:
- Phase I: Preparation took place in 2003–2005. It began the process of mainstreaming adaptation into national economic planning and identified priority pilot investments
- Phase II: Pilot Implementation between 2006 and 2010 developed and demonstrated the systematic diagnosis of climate-related problems and the design and implementation of cost-effective adaptation measures, while continuing the integration of climate risk awareness and responsiveness into economic and operational planning
- Phase III: Expansion started in 2010. Lessons learned in the previous phases have informed the design and preparation of an expanded programme for Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) which will incorporate Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR) measures which, in Kiribati in particular, are closely linked to climate change adaptation initiatives.
In March 2010, the government formulated a national framework for climate change and climate change adaptation and migration. Action resulting from this is being supported by a variety of bilateral and multi-lateral organisations, led by the World Bank.
The strategy is threefold:
- Adaptation – to sustain the existing population and land as far as is technically and economically feasible
CO2 emissions by Kiribati are estimated to be lower than any those of other country in the world, bar one. Per capita emissions in 2005, the last time a full survey was done, were 7% of the global average; and less than 2% of U.S. per capita emissions. Low-carbon technologies in Kiribati are therefore more desirable for promoting development, rather than as a means of mitigating climate change.
Kiribati hosted the Tarawa Climate Change Conference in 2010 as a consultative forum between vulnerable states and their partners, with a hope of creating a more effective environment for multilateral negotiations under the auspices of the UNFCCC. The Ambo declaration (addressing the causes and adverse impacts of climate change) was adopted at the conference on 10 November 2010, and endorsed by Australia and New Zealand, together with Brazil, China, Japan, Cuba, and other Pacific island states. But the United States, Canada and, to my personal regret, the United Kingdom, chose not to be part of the declaration, by taking Observer status.
This is not the occasion to analyse that and the efforts of other international negotiators, who seem to me to be stuck at about the same level of sophistication as the negotiators of the Treaty Of Berlin were on military matters – and that arguably led to two vicious world wars. The harsh reality is that Kiribati cannot significantly influence man’s effect on the climate or international efforts to combat it; nor, in any useful timescale, would any international agreement on climate change now matter to its population. And not a penny of so-called ‘Fast-Start Funds’ promised at Copenhagen four years ago, in 2009, has yet reached anyone on the ground.
So, what can be done to adapt to this reality?
Adaptation is focused around coastal management, conservation of clean drinking water through better rainwater collection, new sources of cultivation, and saving of roads and infrastructure from saltwater damage.
Some of these adaptation measures are basic, and can be easily undertaken with local skills and labour, provided these can be mobilised effectively.
For example, over 37,000 mangrove seedlings have recently been planted on the islands of Aranuka, Butaritari, Maiana, Makin and in North and South Tarawa. To lead by example, the President of Kiribati himself planted mangroves alongside local youths in South Tarawa.
Mangroves, although considered a ‘soft’ option when compared to seawalls, can be one of the most effective forms of coastal protection. It is a solution that is not as costly as others – and it can be done by the community. There is no real maintenance required, and it profits the community by providing extra building materials, food and fire wood, as well as preserving the traditional use of mangroves for dyes and medicines.
Other adaptation programmes are not so affordable locally, such as construction of approximately 500 meters of sea walls; water works have been completed across Tarawa and the outer islands, including a freshwater infiltration galleries and rainwater harvesting and storage facilities; groundwater monitoring boreholes and rain gauges; and changes to standards to in the outer islands to ensure key infrastructure investments will be able better to withstand extreme weather and sea level rises, as well as providing for rainwater harvesting and storage. These only cover a small percentage of the whole population.
The World Bank has praised the Government of the Republic of Kiribati for being a global leader in laying the groundwork through these and other initiatives to deal with the threat from natural hazards, since the mid-1990s.
But as the global food crisis also pushed imported food prices through the roof, the people have been struggling to cope, despite spending half of their income on food. For the first time ever in its existence, Kiribati last year had to seek World Bank emergency food aid, for 60,000 people, or 60% of the population; and it is estimated that 30% of the urban population are now malnourished.
Adaptation is a battle that Kiribati may not be able to win. A rough estimate recently made for the cost for the total protection of all inhabited islands in Kiribati came to around $US2 billion – or $20 million per inhabitant. Generous as the international community may have been to Kiribati, I do not think that it will stump up this much.
This leaves the third aspect of the strategy: relocation.
As the President has said:
“To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful, but I think we have to do that.”
The people relocation strategy of the Kiribati Government has two key components.
Firstly, opportunities must be created to enable the migration of those who wish to do so now and in the coming years. This will assist in establishing a diaspora of I-Kiribati, who will be able to absorb and support greater numbers of migrants in the longer term. It will also benefit those who remain, by lifting the levels of remittances.
Secondly, the levels of qualifications able to be obtained in Kiribati will be raised to those available in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. This will make qualified I-Kiribati more attractive as migrants, but will also improve the standards of services available locally.
The concept of ‘migration with dignity’ is crucial to the effectiveness of the Government’s relocation policy. I Kiribati migrants should be sought after by the countries to which they wish to relocate. For this to happen Kiribati people must be in a position to provide the skills needed in receiving countries. This will create a ‘win-win’ situation, where both Kiribati and the receiving country benefit.
Remittances from workers overseas have a long history in Kiribati; its Marine Training Centre has been sending seamen overseas to crew foreign ships since the 1960s, and more recently the Fishing School has done the same for foreign fishing fleets. Remittances are already equivalent in size to more than 10% of GDP, and since they are sent to spouses and parents all over the country, contribute especially to poverty reduction.
Since 2010, significant additional progress has been achieved in creating different types of temporary employment opportunities abroad, including seasonal worker schemes thanks to the engagement of our development partners (in particular Australia and New Zealand).
The Kiribati Australia Nursing Initiative is a recent example of ‘migration with dignity’. Under this scheme young Kiribati nationals are trained as nurses in Australia, with the intention that they help fill the growing demand for nurses caused by the aging of population in that country. New Zealand is also now accepting a quota of migrants each year, chosen through a lottery. In both cases the prize is eventual citizenship of the receiving country.
There are other kinds of relocation.
Kiribati has just purchased land in Fiji (equivalent to about 7 sq. miles). Contrary to most press reports, this is not intended for the relocation of the entire population of Kiribati, but to provide greater food security and protection against imported inflation via commodity prices. The prospect of being able to supply more of food from our own land (albeit in another country) is a sensible investment. Kiribati will not be the first country to go down this route – for example, Brunei has for similar reasons invested in cattle ranches in Australia.
Conclusion: Some of the Outstanding Issues
However much we may think outside the box (an apparently serious proposal made last year, to replace Tarawa with a floating artificial city, comes to mind) there remains the sad but inescapable fact that the population of Kiribati may indeed ‘no longer have a country’ by the middle of this century.
In my concluding remarks, I should thus like to raise five issues which the Government of Kiribati has consistently raised about such a doomsday scenario – I should be glad to have your reflections on any of these in a few minutes.
Kiribati has relied on external assistance for a long time. I referred earlier both to the strong sense of individual equality and self-worth held by its traditional society, and its long tradition that decisions should be taken by consensus; but also the problems of bandwidth – a micro state simply does not have another people to master every issue (and I hereby dub this the ‘Nancy Bell’ Syndrome – NBS, to provide the obligatory acronym). Could more be done to mitigate the dangers that external assistance subverts the national agenda to those of the donors, promotes rent-seeking and at worst corruption, and by-passes community decision taking?
Is it possible or desirable for the international community formally to extend the Refugee Convention to those forced to cross national boundaries because of climate change (sometimes referred to as ‘environmental refugees’, although we dislike this term)?
Should the international community concern itself at all with the demise of a nation and its unique culture? After all, it has happened many times in history (who now remembers the Kusans, the Visigoths, or the Avars?). I have no doubt that if it does become necessary that Australia and New Zealand could and will absorb 100,000 people; but with the expectation that they will over a couple of generations become good Australians or New Zealanders, rather than remain I Kiribati.
There are plenty of uninhabited, or very sparsely inhabited, tropical ‘high’ islands of the area of Kiribati. Why is it apparently unthinkable for the international community (on ‘sovereignty’ grounds) that Kiribati use its Reserve Fund to purchase such an island, and to move there en masse, still as an independent nation, but in a different place?
What are the security, legal and economic implications of an ‘abandoned’ country? And actually, Banaba will still be above water, unlike say the atolls of Tuvalu or Tokelau. Does Banaba become the centre of a much smaller EEZ? Do the rights of the rest of Kiribati persist, transfer, or get re-allocated by the international community? Who becomes responsible for its existing EEZ, for example, and through what mechanism? How do we deal with ‘Minerva Reef’ type incidents (this was a barely submerged reef near Tonga, on which it was attempted in the 1970s to construct a settlement outside the jurisdiction of any State?).
Thank you for your patience in listening. I look forward to any observations or questions that you may wish to make.
Image credit: United Nations Photo via Flickr Creative Commons