Readings — From the January 2014 issue

No Man Is an Island

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From a decision by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal of New Zealand in the case of Ioane Teitiota, who because of rising sea levels fled his home country of Kiribati, a central Pacific island nation with a population of about 100,000, and sought asylum in New Zealand. The tribunal ruled against Teitiota on the grounds that “the effects of environmental degradation on his standard of living were, by his own admission, faced by the population generally.”

The appellant was born in the 1970s on an islet situated three days’ journey by boat, or two hours by plane, north of Tarawa, the main island and capital of Kiribati. As is common in the island group, his home island is a low-lying atoll with houses built on coral debris accreted over time. In 2002, the appellant married his wife and moved in with her family in another village on Tarawa. He lived in a traditionally constructed dwelling on a seawall built some years previously. Water was obtained from a well and from supplies provided by the government. There were no sewage facilities.

Over time, people traveled to Tarawa from outlying islands. As the villages became overcrowded, there were often physical fights in which people were injured and on occasion killed. The land surface was regularly flooded and could be submerged up to knee-deep during king tides. The wells became salty. Salt water was deposited onto the ground, destroying crops, and the land was stripped of vegetation. The seawall was often damaged and required constant repair. The government’s supplies of water came under pressure through overpopulation and because people could no longer rely on well water. The land was being eaten away. The drinking water was contaminated. Crops were dying, as were the coconut trees.

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