United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, accompanied by Madam Ban Soon‑taek, arrived in Tarawa, Kiribati, on Sunday afternoon, 4 September, from Honiara, Solomon Islands. Before landing just before dusk, the aircraft flew low over Tarawa so the Secretary-General could observe the layout of the low-lying and narrow island and gain an appreciation of the scale of the challenge Kiribati faces from rising sea levels.
Soon after arrival, the Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban travelled to Eita village for a traditional blessing from villagers and village elders at their maneaba, an open-sided meeting place with a thatched roof. After a welcoming ritual, called katokabunna, a special necklace of leaves was placed around the neck of the Secretary-General and Madam Ban. They also drank coconut juice. The Secretary-General thanked the villagers for their welcome and handed over a symbolic gift.
Later that evening, the Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban attended a dinner hosted by President Anote Tong at State House, at which there were traditional dance performances. In his remarks at that dinner, the Secretary-General said he had come to Kiribati to help raise awareness about the threat of climate change to the country’s way of life and existence. He said Kiribati was on the front of the frontlines of climate change.
In the morning of the next day, Monday, 5 September, the Secretary-General had a working breakfast with the Minister of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, Amberoti Nikora, at which the Minister briefed the delegation on development and climate change matters.
After meeting United Nations staff, the Secretary-General visited Abarao settlement and then Tebinikora village to see first hand the impact of rising sea levels and to hear from local people, including children, about their concerns and hopes for United Nations help. In Tebinikora, the Secretary-General could see that some people had moved away from right by the seashore. He heard that wells had become saline and that the Government was providing drinking water. One young boy told the Secretary-General he was afraid to go to bed at night for fear of being inundated by seawater. The Secretary-General vowed to spread the word among world leaders in New York and at climate change and sustainable development meetings.
Next the Secretary-General went to the highest point on Tarawa island, just 3 metres above sea level and close to the shoreline. For the Secretary-General, it was a vivid reminder how vulnerable Kiribati is to rising sea levels and potential tidal waves or tsunamis.
Next the Secretary-General visited Bairiki, where he could witness the effects high tides are already having on land, property and residents despite a sea wall.
The Secretary-General then visited the Marine Training Centre at Betio, where young people are trained as sea farers with the aim of securing international employment with merchant shipping companies. The Secretary-General watched young trainees working on a Second World War vintage generator that still functions, and others practicing sea evacuation drills.
Following this, the Secretary-General visited the House of Parliament, known as Maneaba-n-Mangatabu. He met the Speaker of Parliament, Taomati Iuta, and the Leader of the Opposition, Rimeta Beniamina, and then had a working lunch with them and other Kiribati officials. He told them he had been touched and saddened by his visit and that he would redouble his efforts to tackle climate change.
The Secretary-General then travelled to Stewart Causeway, where he and Madam Ban joined President Tong and a group of young people on the beach to plant mangroves as a way to mitigate the effects of climate change on the coastline of Kiribati. The Secretary-General and the President also spoke to the media there.
The Secretary-General, accompanied by Madam Ban, departed for Auckland that afternoon, arriving in New Zealand the same evening.