350 Pacific’s Kelvin Anthony (from Fiji) interviews local 350 Nauru organiser extraordinaire, Ann Hubert.

It was a rainy, freezing Fijian evening, about eight months ago when I made a friend – at a 350 Pacific organized workshop – from one of the smallest independent republics in the world.  My friend had many qualities that made her standout, firstly as a humble Pacific islander, and then among a group of like-minded, very youthful climate advocates from around the Pacific region.  

Her positive outlook to life, big smile, and charisma intrigued me. She was outspoken and her small stature certainly did not deter her from sharing a piece of her big heart with every person she came into contact with.

But, she gave away little of her and her people’s daily struggle with the impacts of a global phenomenon. I found this, interesting! So here is my friend, Nerida-Ann Steshia Hubert’s story of courage and her hope to carry on with a personal battle against one of the greatest crisis of our times – Climate Change.

Ann, as she is commonly known, has been juggling personal and professional life for the love of her island nation for the past seven years. A health-personnel by profession, she is a strong supporter of youth activism and is an active member of her community – Anabar, one of the eleven districts in Nauru.

She is among those young leaders in the region who are passionate about the environment, with an interest to mobilize and organize grassroots action for exciting yet meaningful events. Ann expresses herself as a walking advocate for youth who believe in a sustainable future for the Pacific, in her case, Nauru in particular!

Living in a ‘pleasant island’ vulnerable to climate change and rising sea-levels, she has sacrificed a great deal of personal time and effort – which means being away from home and work – to promote and draw attention to climate change and its impacts to her people.

Not ignoring the fact that climate change is an important issue that brings both disaster and opportunities, Ann describes the crisis as “a threat to me, my family and my country’s livelihood and well being.”

Surrounded by coral reef, the oval shaped island in the western Pacific Ocean is home to some 10 000 plus people, with its highest point being just 65 metres above sea level. If scientific predictions are anything to go by, the times ahead certainly will be more trying. Currently, people in the island have to make-do with the reality of climate change – as they are faced with drought, limited fresh water (since they are mainly dependent on an aging desalination plant), and extreme rainfall.

“No longer do we see small fish, colourful shells and other reef species (both edible and not) on the reef. They are now rare beauties unlikely to be enjoyed by the future generations. The beach across my home has lost a significant amount of sand and for coconut trees that once stood tall behind my aunt’s house have now fallen due to sand erosion. Traditional medicines and herbs are rarely used and practised now as the special plants have disappeared or have become rare. The local ponds are much more shallow and dry.”

The people of Nauru have been experiencing great changes in the weather. The days have become warmer while the nights are getting much cooler, according to Ann.

“This is something very weird,” she says. “The nights are much cooler, even cold for a Nauru night (especially on the North side of the island). Warmer clothes come in very handy now! And of course, the weather pattern varies in both draught and rain.”

Nauru once used to be an island with a beautiful and rich forest but after the destruction of this natural resource, the land is now left barren, making life tougher for its inhabitants.

“But what people do not know about Nauruans is that they are RESILIENT. They have experienced the “golden days” and now endure more than just political instability,” Ann says.

Today, land degradation and CC play alongside other pressing issues that cause concern, stress and the need to make changes. The locals push through their lives, one-day-at-a-time.

“We see and feel the rapid changes and on-going challenges which include health issues that present themselves daily at all levels. We have lost many values from our past, which include words in our language, traditional skills and activities, culture and respect for the land and sea. Climate change is a contributing factor to these issues and only makes things worse,” explains Ann.

However, there are like minded people, patriots at heart who have begun the restoration of their islands lost values and brought about ease to worried minds and in turn, brought ‘hope’ back for their people.

Residents along the coastal areas in some parts of the island have built sea-walls due to sea water rise and sand erosion, already. But challenges still remain, with the mining site at the hillside of the island preventing people from building new homes on higher ground. The cost of building is also an issue because of the unemployment rate and the low salary scale does not allow for people to afford new housings. To make things even worse, the authorities in the island still do not have a policy or plan in place to address these issues – as yet.

“Even the worst case scenario – which is very much possible – of losing Nauru because of climate change or the idea of migration is still very unreal as our people are still in a transition phase already suffering from other national issues and climate change has become just ‘another problem’ on top of several other daily struggles,” Ann explains.

Highlighting on the importance of taking action, Ann says that every country, big or small, is responsible for the adverse impacts of climate change but it is the larger and developed countries which could do more to safeguard a future Pacific peoples. 

“They (carbon polluting nations) should commit to international conventions, invest in renewable energy, change fossil fuel driven economies in pollutant free economies, enforce and prioritize sustainable adaptation and mitigation methods and program, ensure strong political commitment to both preservation and conservation of resources, and probe the CC purse to ensure that funds for adaptation and mitigation a accessible to all developing countries,” she adds.

The following are Ann’s hope for the future of Nauru – her island home and its people:

“I wish everyone in my island is well versed with climate change and all projects for adaptation and mitigation be implemented and sustained.”

“I hope to see the mined out lands rehabilitated for use in the near future, including the reforestation process.”

“I hope to see our culture and traditions revived through school and community programs and also see a 50% reduction in pollutant use for daily activities.”

“I hope to see that Nauru’s project for a 50-100% shift of power from fossil fuel to solar energy is successful.”

“I hope to God that Nauru becomes self reliant once again and does not have to see its people migrate to other countries because of CC and other impending disasters.”

Though this may sound like just wishful thinking, for Ann, it means survival – of her traditions, culture, identity and an island home for the present generation, and the generations to come.

This, is her story!