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Overcoming urban crowding in Kiribati

Pacific Beat Radio Australia Updated July 4, 2011 08:09:00

There are housing problems in South Tarawa... the area of the Kiribati capital is overcrowded and there has been little effective development control over where people live and how.

And in some areas it will not be safe for people to live due to the effects of climate change.

A group of Masters students studying architecture and urban planning at the University of Melbourne University are in Kiribati working with government department and local communities to improve conditions is existing urban villages.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts
Speaker:Lauren Wheaton, Masters in Architecture student, University of Melbourne 

WHEATON: Out in the field, in our fieldwork while we're here, we're seeing severe sort of health and sanitation issues, including contaminated wells and disease due to lack of ventilation, so overcrowding, there's a lack of urban management to deal with this urbanisation in South Tarawa and the community is also very vulnerable to climate change, rising sea levels, salt in their well water and extreme weather events which are going to occur more often with climate change.

COUTTS: A lot of points there Lauren, but firstly, why is or what do we put the rapid urbanisation down to?

WHEATON: A lot of people are coming from the outer islands to the capital in the hope of job prospects and the outer islands are very vulnerable to the affects of climate change as well, so a lot of people are moving into South Tarawa, hoping to find work here.

COUTTS: Have you had a look at the climate change and the affects and the impact that it's having?

WHEATON: We are seeing erosion occurring and there's a lot of sea walls going up to protect areas from high tides and as the sea gets higher and higher and we're seeing people actually building their own land, because the land is eroding.

COUTTS: Land reclamation?

WHEATON: Yes, that's right. They build sea walls and then seal these areas with trash and also cover it with sand and then start building their houses on this land.

COUTTS: Well sea walls we've also heard some researchers say that they're probably causing more problems than they solve. Is that your evidence as well in looking at South Tarawa?

WHEATON: There has been some comment that sea walls on one part of the island are causing affects on another part of the island, but it's certainly not my speciality, so I'm not quite sure.

COUTTS: Alright, so with the illness and the problems there, what can you as an architectural student recommend to solve those issues?

WHEATON: We're looking at how we can adapt the existing housing to improve sanitation and things like ventilation can help with airborne diseases, so we're looking at trying to .... alternatives, like reclamation of land.

COUTTS: Have you witnessed yourself the evidence of climate change in Kiribati while you've been there?

WHEATON: We have experienced a king tide yesterday, but that's quite normal I believe, but we are seeing quite heavy extreme rain we have seen here and it's very obvious from the low lying islands and the highest point on the island is only three metres and there's a sign saying this is the highest point on the island and you can certainly see the sea levels here dries ??? have been big drought here.

COUTTS: How much more time will you be spending there and when do you expect to wrap it all up and hand in your findings?

WHEATON: We're here until Thursday and we'll be presenting to many local government and private organisations here in Kiribati on Wednesday. We'll receive some feedback on where we've progressed in our work so far. We'll then be going back to Melbourne and we'll have until the 26th July to finish our findings and we'll be presenting it to the University of Melbourne and then sending this information back to Kiribati and hopefully it's something that can be helpful and help the community here move forward.

COUTTS: So you won't be going back to do a progress report or a developments anywhere down the track?

WHEATON: Not at this stage, but I mean it could be possible in the future.

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