Nauru is a tiny island, alone in the Pacific, around 1000 miles East of Papua New Guinea.  It’s around 3 miles long and 2 across. 11,000 people live in the world’s smallest republic, around the size of Dunblane.

 Sitting at the Equator, it’s normally hot and humid with rainfall throughout the year. It used to be called Pleasant Island but recent history and now the climate emergency means it is anything but.  In the last seven months, there’s been no rain.

There should be 2 metres of rainfall every year but this current drought is hitting islanders hard, not that the rest of the world would likely know – it’s well off the global radar.

At Nauru’s one and only secondary school, 17-year-old Tissarina Harris is clear what this could mean for her future.  “Drought has taken over our island…We’ll be the last generation if nothing is taken seriously about this.”

HeraldScotland:

“There are many key effects of climate change that lead to emergency in my country. However, the thing I’d like to strongly emphasise is this — what a crisis.”

Tissarina is also keen to dispel mistaken ideas we might have here in Scotland of what life is like on a Pacific Island.  Like all places, Nauru has its “uniqueness” which is far from a fairy tale.  Much of the land is now inhabitable after years of careless over mining of phosphate — used for food, fertilizers and cosmetics — forcing locals to live in areas where coastal erosion threatens their homes.

“We do not have the benefit of a bigger place for future relocating of my people. As the island sinks, people have nowhere to go.

The water board in Nauru has been working continuously to deal with the shortages caused by the long drought. For many in Nauru, no rain means less clean water which is one of two key objectives Nauru’s leaders have prioritised as they try to play their part in meeting global Sustainable Development Goals.

With few alternatives, Nauru has to rely mostly on imported water. Sourcing from the sea is the cheapest option, but as the salt in seawater increases, the four desalination plants in Nauru are struggling to cope. If they break down, repairs and replacement will cost more than the islanders can afford. Locals worry this solution is temporary. While fighting the costs of shipping, they desperately search for a sustainable solution.

HeraldScotland:

Nauru’s lack of rainwater doesn’t just make it impossible to find clean water to drink. It affects basic, daily chores of cooking and cleaning. The island’s rock caves have also dried up, so instead of collecting water, inhabitants now collect washed up rubbish from the sea. With litter building up, the community has had enough.,

The country Tissarina has grown up in is “not like before”.  As a child, she’d watch colourful fish swim near the island’s “beautiful beaches” that are now just rocks - the coconut trees that surround them no longer have leaves or fruit.

And that is not the island’s only problem - as global temperatures creep up sea levels rise menacingly high, and some of the classrooms at Tissarina’ s school might soon be washed away.

HeraldScotland:

For young people, on a remote island like Nauru, many feel scared and vulnerable about the future. As well as their physical health, climate change also threatens their mental health.

“Young people like me are so scared and unsafe.  Imagine if you were living on an island with limited water for 10 to 20 years. I’m sure that you’d feel the exact same way.  “I will be deprived of so many privileges and opportunities that young people like me would like to enjoy,”

“Many things can happen to us in terms of sickness and other health issues. As climate change worsens, these anxieties will increase and pose questions on my mind.”

In August, Nauru also suffered a flu outbreak. Breathing in dust and dirt, drought made the flu unbearable. As they deal with the aftermath, parents pleaded for better ways to tackle climate hazards so their kids have a safer future.

For Nauru, COP26 is an opportunity to raise awareness of the climate emergency in small Pacific islands, and for all countries who signed the Paris Climate Agreement to honour their commitments.

COP26 is a crucial conference — it’s the first time countries will update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). And with targets set to see temperatures rise above 1.5c, places like Nauru are on borrowed time.

One of the main goals of COP26 is to work together to “protect communities and natural habitats”. Small Islands Developing States in the Pacific hope they are the main focus. While they are some of the smallest emitters across the globe, they endure some of the worst effects of climate change.

Despite their plight, most island leaders are not attending COP26. Only four of these nations will be represented due to travel restrictions surrounding COVID-19.

 Although they are not in Glasgow, Tissarina hopes she and her fellow islanders are not   forgotten and COP26 leaders understand the urgency of their demands.

“It’s almost 10 years of all talks and talks, but little to nothing has been done.”

As climate change continues to impact Nauru, Tissarina Harris will continue to fight against.

“Young people are agents of change and they need constant support,” she said. “There must be hope for the future generation.”


This ‘Dear Green Place’ story is in collaboration between Tissarina Harris from Nauru Secondary School and Sophie Sophie McVinnie and Penny Hodgson, who are both journalism students at Stirling University