Kiribati priest changes sides on climate change debate

Father Martin is the parish priest on the Island of Abaiang, which is about two hours by boat from Tarawa, in Kiribati.  Of the island’s population of about 5,000, some 4,000 are Catholics.

Described as, “an intense man who wears thick black glasses,” he was until recently a climate-sceptic and feared that the message of activists would cause his people to lose faith in God and the Catholic Church.

A group of young climate-change activists based on Tarawa, who travelled to outer islands to educate people about the effects of climate change, were not welcome on Abaiang.

But now his 30-year-old church is flooding during storm surges. As its foundations have begun to give way, so has the priest’s opposition to the science.

Martin says,  “When it was first mentioned about the dangers of climate change, I was not believing myself in global warming. It was said that the ice on the North and the South Poles was melting. But I was not a bit concerned about it. But now I accept that climate change is happening and it’s destroying a lot of goodness in the land we now have in Kiribati.”

He now tells his parishioners about climate change: “It is not God’s curse, but a blessing in disguise.” This is because, Martin says, the youth of Kiribati will have better opportunities in their lives by being forced to leave the islands and atolls for other countries.

Elsewhere in Kiribati Good Samaritan Sister, Sister Marella is trying to increase the harvesting of rainwater into tanks and to stem the frequent wastage of fresh water by the inhabitants on Kiribati.

She has seen misguided aid projects do serious damage in Kiribati. Sixteen months ago she wrote of her frustrations in a newsletter published by her order, the Sisters of the Good Samaritans. One aid project installed solar-powered water pumps in household wells on an outer island of Kiribati. The new technology rapidly over-pumped the wells, causing the underlying salt water to rise and contaminate the whole of the fresh-water reserve, rendering it unusable.

Then, several hundred pit toilets were shipped to another atoll, to help it meet the United Nation’s much-lauded Millennium Development Goals, which aim to halve by 2015 the numbers of people in the world without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. But the pits of the toilets were unsealed, resulting in faeces draining directly into the fresh-water reserves just below.

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News category: Asia Pacific, Top Story.

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