Kochi woman raising awareness for Tuvalu

Crusade against climate change began with four-year stint on vanishing Pacific isle

by Shinji Ito

Kyodo

A young Japanese woman is working to raise awareness about the impact of global warming on Tuvalu, a small Pacific island that could become one of the first nations to be submerged if sea levels continue to rise.

Haruna Kitazoe, 26, who hails from Kochi Prefecture, returned to Japan in April after spending about four years on the low-lying island as an official for Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Tuvalu Overview.

“The land is too slim. Do people actually live on the island?” said Kitazoe, recalling the first time she laid eyes on Tuvalu from the air.

Kitazoe was a university student when she first developed an interest in climate change issues.

She remembers being astounded by a TV program that predicted the world will likely have to deal with constant heavy storms and droughts in the future.

Kitazoe was teaching elementary school students about environmental problems as a volunteer when she learned that Tuvalu Overview was looking for someone interested in working in the tiny island nation, and she applied for the position.

Kitazoe planted mangroves to prevent erosion along the coastline and took Japanese tourists to see coconut trees that had fallen due to erosion in the country, whose nine reef islands and atolls occupy a land area of only 25.9 sq. km.

She also interviewed as many citizens as possible in the country, which has a population of about 9,800, so as to convey their voice to the rest of the world and deepen the understanding of their situation.

“Many people tend to focus on what they have to do each day and spend little time to think about environmental problems,” Kitazoe said.

But she pointed out that Tuvalu will face difficulties sooner or later as sea levels rise, if people do nothing to stop global warming, and that the Pacific nation needs long-term support.

The impact of global warming on Tuvalu became more personal for Kitazoe after she married a local man.

She met him while visiting a remote island where he was running a cafe, and he followed her when she returned to the community in which she was based.

“He instantly fell in love with me,” Kitazoe said.

But she was often puzzled with the country’s customs.

Her husband’s friends and relatives, or people whose names she had never heard, kept visiting their home to stay with the couple.

“A relief is that our 1-year-old son enjoys playing with them,” Kitazoe said about the visitors, during an interview in Tuvalu’s capital before her return to Japan.