Kiribati is slowly disappearing underwater. This tiny Pacific nation with only 100,000 inhabitants is facing a crisis brought on by the changes in weather patterns. Faced with soil erosion, soil salinisation and extreme weather patterns, these effects from climate change are threatening the health, livelihood and homes of its inhabitants.
Russian photographer Vlad Sokhin has documented the effects of climate change in Kiribati as part of a larger, long-term project called Warm Waters. He is investigating the effects of this major environmental problem on nature and communities living in and around the Pacific Ocean, from Alaska to New Zealand, and how they face the challenges that it brings.
He started the project in 2013, when he encountered stories about rising sea levels in Papua New Guinea. “At that time I didn’t know much about climate change and started to read a lot about it. I became really interested in this subject and continued to do stories on climate change in the Pacific region.”
His photographs are stark wake-up calls to the realities of climate change. Floods make homes temporarily unliveable, heightened waves are eroding the coastline, and cyclones and hurricanes are increasing in frequency.
“I see the changes in everyday life, and it is the little things that are important for these people. I wanted to show how these communities cope or adapt. Do they resist it or give up and move somewhere else?” says Vlad.
When Typhoon Maysak slammed through the Federated States of Micronesia this March, it ripped all the coconuts off the trees. “They had water tanks that were destroyed by the typhoon, and their only other source of freshwater was fresh coconut juice, which was also gone,” says Vlad.
“They are located in the middle of the ocean and there is no ready access. They don’t really have connections to the rest of the world. So because of that they rely heavily on international aid.”
Moving away is a last resort for these islanders. “It is their land and land is very important in the Pacific. If you own land, you are highly respected and it’s not something you can or want to give away. It’s where their ancestors are from, that’s where their dead are buried.”
Vlad Sokhin’s Kiribati and James Whitlow Delano’s Scorched Earth: China’s Wounded Environment are part of the Greenlight Series, an Angkor Photo Festival initiative to highlight current environmental issues.
The exhibition opening is tonight at Riverside Gardens, Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. Vlad will be presenting a Q&A about the project on 12 December at the Festival Centre.