Magazine article New Internationalist

Kiribati

Magazine article New Internationalist

Kiribati

Article excerpt

KIRIBATI not only straddles the equator but was also until recently divided by the international dateline, leaving only three shared working days between the two time zones: Mondays east of the dateline were Sundays in the capital, and Fridays in the capital were Saturday in the Line and Phoenix Islands. In 1995 Kiribati re-arranged the dateline to bring all the islands into the same time zone, a move the Government claimed was expedient, but others cynically observed resulted in a global television focus on Kiribati's millennium celebrations of the first sunrise in the 21st century.

One of the world's largest (in area) as well as lowest countries in the world, the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-i-bas) consists mostly of salt water and 33 low-lying densely populated atolls. Vulnerable to sea-level rise and climate change, its people live with poor sandy soil, brackish water, irregular transportation and isolation. It is a country that few are aware of and fewer still visit, with the exception of aid practitioners, Japanese telecommunications experts - and American fly fishers heading for Kiribati's largest but most remote landmass: Christmas Island or Kiritimati.

A proud, stubborn, egalitarian and fun-loving people, i-Kiribati have survived in this harsh environment thanks to strict cultural practices and hard work. Faced with modern rubbish and sewage problems (non-biodegradable and hazardous waste), population expansion and the climatic threat of a flooded future, Kiribati backs small-island protests against those Western countries which refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change.

Kiribati was at the mercy of colonial powers for most of the 20th century. Ruled by Britain as half of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (the name Kiribati is simply a local version of Gilbert), its people suffered Japanese and American atrocities during World War Two. …

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