A Letter from the Frontlines of Climate Change

What would you do if your whole world was disappearing inch by inch… day by day… week by week… month by month… year by year? Would you try and save it? Would you tell others about it?

Would you resign to accepting fate, as many tell you to do?  

What if your life was not the only life in danger? What if your entire family’s lives were in danger?  What if the danger threatened your friends, neighbors, workmates lives, everyone you knew?

What if there were no way to stop the danger?

What if this threat extended to your entire nation? What if your government leaders went around the world, informing other world leaders about this problem?  What if their efforts were silenced by those with greater global standing, money, and power? What if the calls for attention and assistance didn’t reach beyond the hallowed halls of high level meetings and conferences? What if these efforts didn’t convince the world to think about what was happening to our world? To basic human rights? And a greater concern for humanity over monetary gain? What if your nation’s leaders came back with nothing more than words, and promises of lucrative financial adaptive assistance that seemingly never reach your state, your town, your village, your life?

What if the danger didn’t just impact your nation, but rather all nations of the world?  All humans, all plants, all animals? What if there was not enough fresh water to sustain life in your own land?

What if your time was running out, while the rest of the world turned their heads? What do you do when the world does nothing to help?  

You live through the rising tides. You do what you can to survive. You keep sharing your story, and pray for help. In an effort to share one story from one nation, I share with you Iorita’s story from Kiribati. This nation is located where the international dateline meets the Equator. It is at the center of our world. It is the first country in the world to see daylight and it is likely to be one of the first country’s to disappear from the face of our Earth.  

The imminent danger Kiribati faces is difficult to comprehend for those who have never heard of the country, but go there, and the peril its citizens face is obvious. Having a connection with this country over the past fifteen years, has afforded me the opportunity to witness and record the ecological impacts of a rapidly changing environment. With each return visit, I witness increasing amounts of land loss, which makes it exponentially more vulnerable to the rising sea-level and unprecedented storms that have populated the Pacific region over the past decade. The nation is predicted to remain above sea-level for upwards of only a few more years, before the rising sea level renders freshwater lenses unsustainable. Without freshwater, there is no life. The following letter to the world is an individual account of surviving Tropical Cyclone Pamela from Kiribati. 


Photo Credit: Iorita Toromon – our back yard under the ocean - Kiribati

Photo Credit: Iorita Toromon – our back yard under the ocean


DAY 1: We first started experiencing strong winds in the morning round about 10:00 am. The winds ushered in the heavy rains. Throughout the day, the intensity of the winds waxed and waned. It was quite scary but fortunately, we did not experience anything serious at that point. Around 4:00 pm, the winds returned with greater fierce than before, the winds caused the waves to break angrily onto the shores destroying seawalls and homes along the coast. I was in my bedroom at that time with my niece feeling quite scared as the waves crashed onto our house. Not long after, we saw the water coming into our room from under the door. Water came into our room and we had to take everything off the floor and move them to our bed. Our bedroom quickly flooded with the ocean’s water, and we had to leave for another part of the house, which was not flooded. We could not sleep that night as the water from the crashing waves kept falling onto the corrugated tin roof. Between the waves, wind and rain that the cyclone brought, we were very uncomfortable.


Photo Credit: Bibatur Rahman Ibrahim – Kiribati has just one road, causeway repair with sand bags.

Photo Credit: Bibatur Rahman Ibrahim – Kiribati has just one road, causeway repair with sand bags.


DAY 2: The next morning, we woke up to find debris lying around everywhere. The roads were covered with sand, gravel, and rubbish of all kind, which were washed ashore by the waves. Our well water was so salty we could not even use it for bathing. However, we made good use of the rain and collected as much as we could for drinking. We were depressed when seeing the state of our vegetable garden. It was flooded by the seawater, which caused our vegetables to die. Today, more seawater came into the house and some parts of the house collapsed. We decided to abandon our house and move in with extended family for safety. By this time, the winds grew stronger and more destruction to the island was occurring. There were very few public transports as owners didn’t want to risk operating in such dangerous conditions. They feared their cars would be damaged by the waves or by the roads themselves, which were crumbling with each new surge. The Dai Nippon causeway linking the two islands of Betio and South Tarawa was also severely damaged and the government had to close it down. Workers from both islands were sent home before the closing was enforced. I went to stay with my cousin who lived close to my workplace while the rest of my family went to stay with family members in the next village over. 

DAY 3: The wind is subsiding at this time but still having a few showers and a moderate wind. I stayed with my cousin but my family is starting to repair damages caused to our seawall and our home. I am still staying with my cousin although the weather has been fine now for 2-3 days. 
Now we are having good weather...no more threats from Pam and her counterparts the sea and rain. We are having our dear sunshine again with its warmth that embraces us each day. Although the weather is back to normal the aftermath of the cyclone and the waves and the rain still exist. People are now working on their seawalls repairing and strengthening them as well as rebuilding their houses that have collapsed during the cyclone. Road maintenance workers are also working hard to fix everything for local transports. We are praying that whatever repairs are being done now, will be able to withstand the next king tide which is in two weeks’ time. 


On Kiribati – The barren land after constant inundation exemplifies the long lasting impacts of salt water intrusion.

Photo Credit: Iorita Toromon – The barren land after constant inundation exemplifies the long lasting impacts of salt water intrusion.


Regarding help in our area, there is no outside help either from government and non- government organizations or church groups. Families rebuild their lives and homes with family members only. 
The main needs in our community are:

1.    Materials that would help in construction of stronger seawalls, and construction experts. 

2.    Water tanks for each household for water storage so that in these kind of situations, when their wells become salty, they still have enough water for their families. 

3.    Machines that can convert seawater to fresh water for each community or village so that people can still have water when wells become ruined by the rising sea or during long periods of drought. 

- Iorita Neemia Toromon



Kiribati Keepers - a new grassroots non-profit organization founded by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Kiribati to assist the nation of Kiribati.

To help the nation with its continued recovery efforts you can donate to Kiribati Keepers, a new grassroots non-profit organization founded by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Kiribati to assist the nation of Kiribati.  Find out more about our efforts, organization, and mission at http://kiribatikeepers.causevox.com/  



In 2000, Mike Roman went on a life-changing venture through the Peace Corps to the island nation of Kiribati, a nation on the frontlines of climate change. In 2010, he travelled to New Zealand as a Fulbright teaching assistant at the University of Waikato, where he rejoined many of his Kiribati family members who had migrated to New Zealand. His experiences abroad prompted him to pursue and now hold an MA in Applied Anthropology, an MPH in Behavioral and Communication Health Sciences, and a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology.