PhD candidate Taberannang Korauaba from AUT’s Pacific Media Centre gives us some insight into what drove him to research climate change communications in the South Pacific.
“It was after midday on 27 October 2014 when my flight touched down at Tuvalu’s airport in Funafuti.
I first visited Tuvalu 14 years ago to cover a joint launch of the Kiribati government’s aircraft with Tuvalu, an aircraft that was to service routes between Funafuti and Tarawa. At the time, I was a Kiribati reporter based in Tarawa. But this time, I arrived in Tuvalu as a New Zealand-based journalist and researcher for climate change communications in the South Pacific.
This small South Pacific nation consists of nine islands - from north to south, they are Nanumea, Niutao, Nanumaga, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae and Niulakita with around a population of ten thousand people.
“Why Tuvalu?” was the first question I tried to answer before submitting my research proposal to AUT’s Ethics Committee. Why did I choose to include this tiny Polynesian country in my research on Micronesia. Simple – it is one of the low-lying islands facing the biggest threat from climate change and rising sea levels. Its challenges in this respect are shared with neighbouring Kiribati and the Marshall Islands.
A Tuvaluan reporter in Funafuti, asked me this. He was trying to find out who I was, where I came from, and what my agenda was for researching his country. But this suspicion is always going to be present for anyone coming to Tuvalu to undertake climate change research because there have been many researchers, documentary makers and journalists alike visiting the country for one reason – to find out about the impacts of climate change. This distrust, or suspicion, is there because the problem still exists, despite the countless research, documentaries, and media reports.
Through my research, I discovered that Tuvalu was actually the first country in the world to start the conversation about climate change in 1990, a year when this issue was not being taken seriously.
What I have learnt through existing literature, and read or heard on the news, tell a very different story to what I witnessed in Tuvalu those three weeks I was there last year. The actual situation there is far worse than what we read about in the media.
While low-lying islands are all on the frontline, we should focus in much more detail to what’s happening in Tuvalu - the nation facing the greatest risk of disappearing as a result of climate change and sea level rise.
Water, for example, because of climate change, is a major problem in Tuvalu, with water rationed two buckets a day per household. People choose to bathe in the lagoon to save their water rations for drinking and cooking.
Need to rally together
"We are already suffering. It's already like a weapon of mass destruction and the indications
are all there...we only need to garner strong collective leadership to address this.”
- Tuvalu Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, 2014
Tuvaluans with the support of their government are doing everything they can to survive day-by-day, and they have an unwavering belief that one day the world will come up with a solution and many of them will be able to return home. And what strikes me is that despite the hardship effected by climate change, is the devotion of the people of Tuvalu to their country; people look after their land well, houses are well in order, clean and tidy.
But there is a need for Tuvalu to regain and retake its leading role in real action on and against climate change. We need all Tuvaluans to rally together in support of real action against climate change.
“To tell everyone to pack their things and leave is self-defeat,” says Tuvalu Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga. “We will stay and fight, because even if we escape to the United States or Australia, climate change will still catch us there.”
Last week, we saw this spirit of fighting together as one when the Kiribati and Tuvalu community in Auckland joined forces to support the plea of Ioane Teitiota to be allowed to stay in New Zealand. The community agree that their islands, which, while by heart they continue to call home, and continue to visit during the holidays, is in fact no longer safe for children who were born outside the country because of climate change and sea level rise.
Let’s reignite discussion and debate on climate change with a particular focus on migration and relocation. This is how Tuvalu can retake its leading role in the fight against climate change.
Fakafetai, manuia te aso, and Happy Tuvalu Independence Day to the people of Tuvalu.