In November 1943, one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific War raged. Old tanks and guns can still be seen in Kiribati today. The island state is now threatened by danger from a completely different side.
The island state is one of the largest states in the world in terms of its area of 5.2 million square kilometres, if water is counted. If one considers the pure land mass, however, only 811 square kilometers remain, Berlin is larger. Seen in this light, Kiribati, with its three Micronesian and Polynesian archipelagos, which on average only rise about two metres out of the sea, belongs to the rather small countries.
However, no country in the world has more water in relation to its land area, and no other country covers all four hemispheres. For example, if you want to get there, you have to fly from Frankfurt to Tarawa for about 50 hours with stopovers and waiting times. You can also do quite a stretch of island hopping: From the easternmost to the westernmost island, it is over 5000 kilometres as the crow flies.
But those who want to go from London to Paris on Kiribati only have to cover approximately 130 kilometres. Both places, named after the European metropolises, are located on the island atoll Kiritimati, the former Christmas Island, that was named after James Cook who spent the holidays there in 1777.
However, Paris is an abandoned village, while London is populated by almost 2000 people – many of whom smoke. Kiribati has the highest smoking rate in the world. According to a long-term study, 40.5 percent of islanders aged 15 and over smoke cigarettes every day.
Kiribati’s War Heritage
On November 20, 1943, one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific War raged. In 76 hours more than 6000 people died when US Marines took the Tarawa atoll occupied by Japan. Traces can still be found on the islands today: bunkers and guns on land, remains of rusty floating tanks, ships and fighter planes off the coast. They lie at shallow depths and can be visited on tours to the reef off the island of Betio. “There was no begging before the arrival of the first cruise ship,” said Paul Theroux.
The US travel writer visited Kiribati in the late nineties and pointed out the negative effects of tourism, which was only just beginning to develop at that time. Today there are about 3500 tourists per year – tourism has developed into an important economic factor alongside fishing and the export of coconuts. But there is the threat of destruction: the shallow Kiribati threatens to sink into the sea before the end of this century due to climate change.
The date line
Also in Kiribati the sun rises and sets. Until 1995 the same sunrise and sunset happened on two different days – because the date line separated the country. Then it was shifted to the eastern border of the national territory. Since then Kiribati is only in one date zone. The inhabitants of the easternmost islands are now the first people in the world to welcome a new day.
The consumption of fish
According to the Pacific marine conservation initiative Macbio, one inhabitant of Kiribati consumes 74 kilograms of fish every year. In no other country in the world is per capita consumption higher. Further surveys assume that the Kiribati even consume one kilo per person per day on some of the islands.
The global average, on the other hand, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, is even at its highest historical level, but “only” a little over 20 kilos. On Kiribati consumption could still grow, because more and more people own their own boat – and the waters are extremely rich in fish.
Rice, sugar, flour – staple foods are imported because there is no space for cultivation and the soil is poor. Fortunately, there is the frugal Pandanus tree, which thrives on almost all 32 atolls. It provides material for construction, medicine, insulation – and is a speciality. Its pineapple-like fruit can be eaten raw, but cooked, sliced and coated with coconut paste it tastes really good.