BUARIKI VILLAGE, NORTH TARAWA, Kiribati—Before a rainwater collection tank was built near their home, Toasu Tengata, 72, and his wife, Mwangarita Ioane, 62, used to bicycle to the center of their village every morning to collect two buckets of water for drinking and cooking. Tengata and his family could no longer use the water from their well because it had become brackish as the sea level rose and the salt water infiltrated the well. Today, they are able to collect water from a rainwater tank on their land.
“Now, we don’t have to worry if the sea continues to rise and comes into our well because we have our water tank,” Tengata said.
Four new 10,500-liter water tanks provide clean water and a temporary solution for Tengata and Buariki villagers affected by sea level rise, but more tanks are still needed as the high tides inundate the land and contaminate the well water.
Kiribati is a small island nation consisting of 32 coral atolls and one phosphate island in the South Pacific, located roughly between Hawaii and Fiji. Like many low-lying island nations, Kiribati is especially vulnerable to any increase in sea level due to its average elevation of less than 3 meters.
Buariki village, on the north-western edge of Tarawa Island, has seen dramatic changes in sea level rise over the past year, which have left many families without drinkable well water and high rates of diarrheal diseases and vomiting linked to contaminated water.
Bwebwentarawa Teiti, 47, the water technician for North Tarawa, said that the water salinity has changed over the past few years and continues to increase every three months. “It is part of the culture to live next to the sea and go out to collect fish and shellfish but now it’s more difficult,” he said.
Mereana Marouea, 49, remembers what life was like in Buariki before the arrival of the water tanks. “We had worms, we had vomiting, we had diarrhea," she said. “All we had to drink was the well water, and we had to boil it.” Today, she said, most of Buariki village collects water from the rainwater tanks, which has lessened the incidence of these diseases. “It has reduced the burden for the nurse, because there will be a decrease in diarrhea, worms, all of this,” she said.
The new rainwater collection tanks were built by Buariki community members and provided by the University of the South Pacific in partnership with the European Union, as part of the Pacific Center for the Environment and Sustainable Development Project, which works with low-lying island nations to develop community-based solutions for climate adaptation.
Professor Pelenise Alofa, the in-country coordinator for the USP project in Kiribati, worked with the Buariki community to determine where to place the tanks that would best serve the families. She established a water committee to maintain the tanks.
“Any effective project must change the life of a single person,” she said, “I feel even with the little money we have through USP we have made a difference here, and I feel satisfaction because we’ve brought the tanks to the people.”
There are now nine tanks in Buariki, providing 72,000 liters for the village, but some village members are still concerned as the droughts become more severe and the storms become less predictable.
“Comparing the number of tanks we have with the needs of the people, we are not even close to meeting the demand. There are limitations to the tanks as well. If there are droughts like there were last year, we don’t get the water,” said Marouea Iakoba, 54, the village councilor. Despite his concerns, Iakoba celebrates the newly launched tanks because they have helped many affected families in his village gain access to clean water and prevent the spread of diseases.