A former fresh water lagoon that is now inundated with sea water. Photo: Justin McManus, The Age

Risk of Dengue Fever to increase

Climate change exacerbates public health problems in Tarawa. The incidence of ciguatera poisoning, diarrhoeal disease, malnutrition, and vectorborne diseases, such as dengue fever, rise as a result of increased temperatures and changes in rainfall.

There have been several known outbreaks of Dengue Fever in Kiribati since the 1970s. South Tarawa is at a relatively high risk of dengue fever epidemics due to a combination of crowded urban areas, ideal climate conditions for the vector (average temperatures of 31 degrees Celsius and rainfall of 500 millimetres a month), the presence of an international airport, and the proliferation of discarded empty bottles and used tires.

A simple model suggests that the risk of dengue fever will increase in the future as a result of climate change, with the epidemic potential – an index measuring the efficiency of disease transmission – expected to increase 22─33 percent by 2050. Most of South Tarawa’s population would be exposed in the event of an epidemic. However, while future epidemics could expand faster, the number of cases would probably not increase from current levels. The increased prevalence of all dengue virus serotypes worldwide could also lead to a higher incidence of severe forms of dengue fever – in particular dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, which can be fatal.

Read more about the potential health effects of climate change