In 1979 the Gilbert Islands, Banaba, the Phoenix and the Line Islands became the independent Republic of Kiribati. The Republic has a total land area of 810 square kilometres and consists of 32 atolls and one raised coral island Banaba, spread across approximately a third of a million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. This nation has a permanent population of just over 100,000 with about half living on the capital island, South Tarawa. Kiribati is one of the world’s poorest countries. It has few natural resources. Commercially viable phosphate deposits on Banaba were exhausted at the time of independence. Copra and fish now represent the bulk of production and exports whilst tourism provides more than one-fifth of GDP.
Phosphate rock-mining for fertiliser from 1900 to 1979 stripped away 90% of Banaba island's surface, the same process which occurred on Nauru from 1907 to the 1980s. Japanese forces occupied the island from 26 August 1942 until the end of World War II in 1945. The British authorities relocated most of the population to Rabi Island, Fiji after 1945, with subsequent waves of migration in 1977 and 1981-1983. Some have subsequently returned, following the end of mining in 1979 and approximately 300 are now thought to be living on the island. Globally, there are an estimated 6000 individuals of Banaban descent.
Banaba Island is a political anomaly. Despite being part of Kiribati, its municipal administration is by the Rabi Council of Leaders and Elders in Fiji. The stated wish of the Kiribati government to reopen mining on Banaba is strongly opposed by many in the Banaban diaspora. Some of the leaders of the displaced Banaban community in Fiji have called for Banaba to be granted independence. One reason given for the maintenance of a community on Banaba, at a monthly cost of F$12,000, is that if the island were to become uninhabited, the Kiribati government might take over the administration of the island, and integrate it with the rest of the country. Kiribati is believed to be anxious to retain Banaba, in the hope of remining it in the future. Additionally, along with Kiritimati, it is not a low-lying coral atoll and less susceptible to rising sea levels.
Kiribati is extremely vulnerable to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise. Its 32 atolls are less than 500-1000m in width and rarely surpass 3m above sea level. The islands are also exposed to periodic storm surges and droughts, particularly during La Nina years. A 2000 World Bank Regional Economic Report estimated that Kiribati could lose up to 34% of its 1998 GDP by 2050 due to climate change if no adaptation measures were undertaken. In response, an international coalition of interests has helped this tiny island nation kick well above its weight in terms of the Mauritius Strategy for Further Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.
Renewable Energy & Eco Housing
Kiribati is highly dependent on imported fuels for electricity generation, transport and cooking. Energy use is dominated by the main urban centers at Tarawa and Kiritimati. Biomass is estimated to constitute around 25% of the gross national energy supply and is used for household cooking and copra drying in rural areas. Solar PV is an important source of energy in outer islands, but only accounts for less than 1% of national energy consumption. On the outer islands the per capita energy use is very low, and energy is often solely used for lighting and cooking with solar and biomass the main sources of energy. Electricity in rural areas comes from solar home systems (SHS) with the exception of small generator use for government housing around the island council offices. Petroleum use is mainly kerosene used for lighting or cooking and to operate a few motorcycles and outboard powered boats.
The Government of Kiribati struggles with the high cost of importing fossil fuels, in particular to the outer islands. In order to keep the import of fossil fuels at a minimum, the Government has long had a policy of utilizing renewable energy for outer island electrification and associated development. Due to the better standard of living and economic opportunities that electricity brings, migration to the capital is reduced. To date roughly 34% of outer island homes have solar lighting services installed with an additional 15% indicating a desire for electrification. Typical systems include a 100 Wp panel and 100 Ah battery. Previously there have been minimal efforts to develop electricity beyond basic lighting, however there is a clear demand and need for electricity for small business development and for supporting modern education. This will be a key component in the effort to improve outer island socio-economic conditions.
The Kiribati Solar Energy Company (KSEC) has been installing solar energy systems since 1984. In 1992 the structure of the company was changed to a solar utility company whereby solar installations would be made and maintained by the company, with ownership retained by KSEC and electricity services sold to users for a fee. As a Renewable Energy Service Company KSEC is responsible for providing all technical and maintenance support and ensuring that the solar installations remain operational, providing reliable power. In 1992 KSEC completed a trial project electrifying 56 households on North Tarawa managed under the solar utility concept. By 2001 the KSEC maintained 310 SHS in the islands of North Tarawa, Marakei and Nounouti. In August 2001 the inception phase of a European Union solar energy project for the outer islands began that resulted in the installed capacity increasing, from the then existing 310 SHS to 2,100 SHS plus 96 community buildings. In terms of installed capacity, it increased from 31,000 Wp to around 250,000 Wp and the number of islands to be electrified increased six-fold, from 3 to 18. This project was succesfully completed in 2005, and in 2009 the KSEC received another EU grant, enough to double installed capacity from 0.25 MWp to 0.5 MWp. More recently, the potential of utilising wind energy in Kiritimati has been assessed and the feasibility of using refined coconut oil for running diesel generators and as a fuel for transport.
Waste Minimisation & Recycling
Poor waste management was one of the major environmental problems in Kiribati, particularly on South Tarawa. Various reports since 1994 have detailed the problems and for years it appeared that most of the 40,000 people living on South Tarawa would simply have to accept sharing their streets and beaches with the 6,500 tonnes of solid waste they generated every year. Traditionally households swept all their mixed waste into communal piles in the street for collection by the Council. Although many householders paid an annual rent of $10 the Council collection was often infrequent and inefficient. The result was that open, uncontained, piles of rubbish became a standard fixture in the community. The Council was also continuing the practice of illegally dumping mixed waste along foreshore areas – often at the invitation of landowners who wanted to reclaim land for future building.
As growing volumes of solid and liquid waste started to put Tarawa’s fragile water lens and lagoon under increasing pressure, the subsequent health risks simply became too difficult to ignore. In 2002 the Kaoki Mange resource recovery facility was set up at the port of Betio by the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific-Kiribati to recycle aluminum drink cans, plastic bottles and lead-acid batteries for shipment back to Australia. This quickly became a success and Kiribati continued to participate in a number of regional initiatives that focused on improving solid waste management. These included the International Waters Project (IWP) coordinated by SPREP from 2003 to 2006.
The Kiribati National IWP ran a successful household waste reduction competition appropriately titled “Akeatemange” or “Zero Waste” designed to encourage residents to reduce littering, compost plant material, and separate their remaining waste into new biodegradable Greenbags for collection and disposal by the council. One of the main competition winners, Tekori Ruka, benefited directly from a steady supply of rich and fertile compost from her new Banana Circle. This was a simple composting method where several banana trees are planted around a hole lined with cardboard and any plant waste just fed into the hole. Sometimes grey water from the kitchen and laundry is piped in to feed the banana roots. As well as providing fruit the Banana Circle has transformed her family’s once barren soil into an abundant garden with flourishing cucumbers and cabbages, which she now sells at the local market.
Kiribati also participated in the Electronic and Electrical Waste (e-waste) regional project implemented by SPREP in 2007. The project undertook a stocktaking and baseline study of e-waste in Kiribati and recommended sustainable solutions including recycling nationally and export overseas. Another promising initiative was a bulky waste bilateral project between Kiribati and SPREP in 2007. The scrap metal removal pilot project was implemented by a private enterprise, Lagoon Motors, which cleared Tarawa of old wrecks and exported them to Asia.
In 2012 the New Zealand Aid Programme and USAID signed a partnership agreement to support the Kiribati Solid Waste Management Initiative for South Tarawa and Kiritimati. The initiative will bring household garbage collection to over 80 per cent of households, increase the resilience of landfills to negative effects of climate change such as storm surge and sea level rise, and improve the capacity of the local governments to manage on going collection, recycling and disposal programmes. Work led by the New Zealand High Commission began in South Tarawa in 2011 and has achieved noticeable results: three landfills are now licensed and operating effectively; the recycling yard has been rehabilitated with over 40 tonnes of PET bottles shipped off island; and a household (pre-paid bag) rubbish collection system was introduced in March 2012. Similar activities began on Kiritimati Island in 2012.
Water Management & Security
There are three sources of water: from boreholes, rain and water purified at the government plant. But no one wants to drink the water from the borehole because it is contaminated from people burying their dead all over the island, and from human waste. Residents are also seeing gradual salinisation of the bore water with sea-level rise. At the moment it is only affected by the king tides but in coming years it’s set to get worse. Rainwater supply is not very widespread because most people don’t have iron roofing or cannot afford a storage tank. It is also expensive to connect up to the purified water supply and although government does deliver water by truck it can be woefully slow. As a result, a lot of families turn to the borehole, which makes them very sick, and many end up in hospital. This is also really costly because the little money that families do have gets spent on bus fares to and from the hospital. As well as the lack of water, Kiribati now faces the problem of too much water in the wet season. It can rain every day for four months causing localised flooding and climate change will only it make it worse. In 2011 the Kiribati Climate Change Action Network (KiriCAN) started organising public workshops on Tarawa to educate the community about where to locate and look after new water tanks funded by the New Zealand aid programme.
Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production
Agricultural production is very low and consequently most food items are imported from overseas. In 2004, for the first time, the country experienced real food shortage, in terms of imported starchy foods such as rice and flour when the Kiribati main container vessel missed her schedule to deliver the foods to Kiribati from Australia. The country went without rice and flour for more than a month and in Tarawa, people turned to all available forms of starchy products to eat their fish with. They consumed biscuits, wheat-bix, noodles, sweet biscuits and the likes. The period coincided with the off-season of breadfruits and this worsened the situation. People in the outer islands were lucky in that they had coconuts and other alternatives like the local fig and babai (giant swamp taro). Nonetheless the general population all over Kiribati suffered. Kiribati is a fishing nation and therefore it has never experienced a shortage of protein as fish is always there - the problem is what to eat with fish.
There are signs of improvement despite the constraints of inherently poor soil conditions, lack of surface water sources, land tenure and the geographical scattered nature of the islands. Currently a Kiribati Government strategy is to encourage an increase in local food production in the outer islands and to increase trade from the northern “Garden Islands” (e.g. Butaritari) to South Tarawa to feed the growing urban centre. The government has instituted a freight subsidy to traders to encourage marketing in Tarawa and anecdotal evidence is that there are now more established markets for some farm products.
The Kiribati Organic Farmers Association was established in 2005 and homegardening has increased significantly, largely due to the promotion of organic composting systems by donor organizations. Kamaimai or coconut sap syrup is another promising product, with potential as a natural sweetener similar to golden syrup or maple syrup. Derived from toddy or coconut sap, coconut sugar is gaining traction as a low GI (glycemic index) food. This is good news for the low-lying atolls in Kiribati, where toddy is traditionally prepared but where there are few natural exports. To assist with the development of this product, the EU-FACT Project presented vital equipment for the production of coconut sugar to the Kiribati Organic Farmers Association. The pandanus fruit is also traditionally consumed in Kiribati, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community has helped develop new pandanus fruit juice products.
Due to the isolation of Kiribati there is limited access. Currently the only way to get there is by one of the scheduled air services. Air Pacific fly twice weekly from Nadi, Fiji to Tarawa and once a week to Kiritimati. Our Airline fly once a week from Brisbane to Tarawa, via Honiara and Nauru. Air Kiribati fly from Tarawa to Nadi, Fiji once a week. No boats service Kiribati on a regular schedule but cruise liners occasionally stop at various islands. The Phoenix Islands are currently only accessible by sea but you must have your own vessel to reach them, or join one of the few adventure sailing cruises that visit there. Ships operate from South Tarawa to all the outer islands transporting passengers, cargo and vehicles. Buses are the most convenient and inexpensive way of travelling around South Tarawa with fleets of private buses servicing Betio to Buota (the end of the road). North Tarawa and many outer islands do not have motorised vehicles - the only way to get around these areas is on bicycle or by foot. Motorbikes are a convenient mode of transport throughout the islands.
Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing
Kiribati has a tourism action plan with a clear vision, goals, targets and actions to become a major contributor to their economy by 2014. The Kiribati National Tourism Organisation details the obvious attractions for visitors like fishing, scuba diving, surfing, bird watching and visiting World War II sites as well as providing practical information on the wide array of accommodation types. However, it should be the all-embracing culture and heritage that should be experienced through independent exploration or going on a tour organised by Kiribati Holidays or the Otintaai Hotel. Folk music, songs and above all dances are held in high regard on Kiribati. The frigate bird on the Kiribati flag refers to the unique bird-like style of Kiribati dancing with its emphasis on the outstretched arms of the dancer and the sudden birdlike movement of the head.
Biodiversity & Protected Areas
The Kiribati National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan prepared by the Environment and Conservation Division (ECD) recognises that compared to other island countries, the indigenous vegetation and flora of the atolls of Kiribati are among the poorest on earth with very few if any endemic species. On the other hand, their marine biodiversity includes one of the world’s largest intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, together with 14 known underwater seamounts and other deep-sea habitats. The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) was first declared at the 2006 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Brazil. On 30 January 2008 Kiribati adopted formal regulations for PIPA that more than doubled the original size to make it at the time the largest marine protected area on Earth. PIPA covers approximately 11% of the entire Economic Exclusive Zone of Kiribati and is declared a no fishing zone by the government. This vast expanse contains approximately 800 known species of fauna, including 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals and 44 bird species. The structure and functioning of PIPA’s ecosystems illustrates its pristine nature and importance as a migration route and reservoir. For these reasons PIPA was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2010.
Integrated Development Planning
In 2009 the government of Kiribati first proposed A Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, that was later conceptually approved by leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in 2010. This is a collaborative agreement between 15 Pacific Island nations for the integrated management of 38.5 million sq km surrounding their collective islands, or four times the size of continental Europe. The agreement covers ocean health and security; governance; sustainable resource management; increased research and knowledge investment; and facilitating the partnerships and cooperation needed to support the conservation of these vast and essential ecosystems. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade is to be the first Pacific Oceanscape Commissioner. His role is to be the united voice for the Pacific Ocean and to help the region prepare for the United Nation’s Rio + 20 and other international meetings.
Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures
The global warming implications for Kiribati have been graphically documented and subject to international awareness raising through the power of performance art in the Water is Rising project. Sea levels are rising so fast that Kiribati has seriously considered moving its 100,000 people on to artificial islands or relocating most of the population to Kiritimati Island, which is higher, larger and cleaner than Tarawa. These radical actions together with the adaptation and mitigation strategies that have been adopted are detailed extensively on the government climate change portal. In addition, President Anote Tong convened the Tarawa Climate Change Conference (TCCC) in Kiribati from 9 to 10 November 2010. The purpose of the conference was to support his initiative to hold a consultative forum between vulnerable states and their partners with a view of creating an enabling environment for multi-party negotiations under the auspices of the UNFCCC. The conference was the successor event to the Climate Vulnerable Forum held in November 2009 in the Maldives, when eleven climate vulnerable countries signed the Bandos Island declaration pledging to show moral leadership and commence greening their economies by voluntarily committing to achieving carbon neutrality.
Based on the lessons learned in the COP process, the TCCC proposed a more inclusive format of consultations, involving key partners among major developed and developing nations. The ultimate objective of TCCC was to reduce the number and intensity of various fault lines between parties to the COP process, explore elements of agreement between the parties and thereby to support Kiribati's and other parties' contribution to COP16 which was held in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010. The Ambo declaration calling for more and immediate action to be undertaken to address the causes and adverse impacts of climate change was adopted at the TCCC by Australia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Fiji, Japan, Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Tonga. The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, who also attended the conference, chose not to be part of the declaration by taking Observer status.
Over 37,000 mangrove seedlings have recently been planted with community involvement on several islands as part of the Kiribati climate change adaptation programme. Mangroves, although considered a ‘soft’ option when compared to seawalls, can be one of the most effective forms of coastal protection that act as buffers to storm surges and sea sprays. Mangrove ecosystems are also an important habitat for marine species that local livelihoods depend upon, help filter nutrient runoff from land and reduce pollution impacts on the sea. In Kiribati mangroves are also culturally important as they are utilised as a source of building materials, dye and medicine. The planting programme encountered one unexpected issue in that barnacles caused the destruction of smaller seedlings but the majority survived and are now growing successfully.