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Island nation Kiribati says in dire need of cash to combat climate change

by Sophie Hares | @SophieHares | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 26 May 2017 08:25 GMT

Villagers watch the sunset over a small lagoon near the village of Tangintebu on South Tarawa in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati May 25, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray

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"But the underlying issue is the money - our public resources are not sufficient to address these climatic issues"

By Sophie Hares

CANCUN, Mexico, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Pacific island nation of Kiribati is in dire need of aid as drought pushes it closer to declaring a state of emergency and it struggles with rising seas and other effects of climate change which could cost "billions", said President Taneti Mamau.

The urgency of the problems facing low-lying Kiribati means it cannot wait for finance from international sources like the Green Climate Fund, which would take two years to arrive, he said.

The country is spending from its reserve funds as it searches for low-interest loans, he added.

"A day waiting is a day too many," he told journalists on Thursday at a U.N. conference on disasters in the Mexican resort of Cancun.

Mamau said his island nation had established a basis for taking disaster risk into account in its economic planning.

"But the underlying issue is the money - our public resources are not sufficient to address these climatic issues," he said, appealing to other leaders at the meeting for help.

Comprised of 33 coral islands, Kiribati's total land mass is only about 800 square km (309 square miles), and on average is just 2 metres (6.5 ft) above sea level. It has seen the ocean swallow chunks of its coastline, raising the prospect it may be the first nation to become a casualty of global warming.

To pay for measures to deal with climate change, Mamau said his country could not rely on donors alone, and would increase its own contributions.

Kiribati's first application to the Green Climate Fund, set up under U.N. climate talks to channel billions of dollars to help poor countries tackle climate change, was turned down for technical reasons but it plans to submit another funding bid this year, and is expecting "hundreds of millions", said Mamau.

The total cost of coping with climate change could be "billions", he added.

After several years of drought, the government is looking at desalination plants to provide water for some islands where the water has become undrinkable.

Lack of data is a major barrier to managing disasters in the country, which has limited early warning systems, said the president. It relies on radio to communicate but will soon introduce a mobile phone network.

Kiribati earns most of its revenue from licensing fishing vessels mainly from Europe, South Korea, the United States, Japan and China, selling access days to fish in its waters.

Its exclusive economic zone is one of the largest in the Pacific, spanning 3.6 million square kilometres (1.4 million square miles), an area about the size of India.

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, which ends on Friday, is the first major conference since the 15-year Sendai Framework was hammered out in Japan in 2015, setting targets for governments to cut deaths and economic losses from disasters by 2030.

The seven Sendai targets also include limiting damage to infrastructure and disruption to basic services such as health and education, and widening access to early warning systems and public disaster risk information.

(Reporting by Sophie Hares, editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.

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